There's a Quiet Potato War Going On

Grocers allege growers are colluding to illegally inflate prices
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2013 1:50 PM CDT
There's a Quiet Potato War Going On
A field of flowering Ranger russet potato plants is pictured near Wilder, Idaho, on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.   (AP Photo/John Miller)

Who knew there was a quiet potato war going on? On one side: grocers. On the other: potato growers. An unwitting victim: you, assuming you purchase the fruits of the latter from the former. As the AP reports, the Associated Wholesale Grocers has filed a lawsuit charging that potato growers have been secretly working together for a decade to illegally inflate prices. The tactics it's alleging sound like the stuff of movies: The suit claims growers have shrunk and actually destroyed harvests, and says the United Potato Growers of America (one of two dozen defendants) has used "satellite imagery, fly-overs, GPS systems, and other methods to enforce its agreement to reduce potato supply."

The grocers' association, which supplies more than 2,000 stores in 24 states, wants triple damages. And while the AP reports it's unclear how much the alleged price-fixing has bumped up the cost of, say, frozen Tater Tots, it predicts the damages would likely add up to millions. A lawyer for UPGA cites the 1922 Capper-Volstead Act, which provides agricultural cooperatives with protection from prosecution under antitrust laws. "Right from the beginning, we did everything right, to qualify for Capper-Volstead," he says. "We know what you have to do to qualify for that limited exemption and we followed all those rules." The grocers' lawyer disagrees: "None of the defendants ... is entitled to the limited protections found in the Capper-Volstead Act for their efforts to restrict potato supply and fix prices." The AP notes the lawsuit was this week shifted to US District Court in Idaho. (More potatoes stories.)

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