US-based agribusiness giant Cargill is at the centre of an EU probe into alleged price-fixing among traders and distributors of cereals and other agricultural products.

Cargill confirmed to just-food that it was raided as part of the investigation, which has also taken in a number of other unnamed companies.

The raids cover traders and distributors of cereals and other agricultural products for human consumption and animal feed in two EU countries.

They come at a time when grain prices are at record highs amid strong demand, and the use of grain to produce biofuels has lifted food prices.

In a statement, the European Commission said it had reason to believe the companies concerned may have "violated EC Treaty rules on cartels and restrictive business practices".  It did not name the companies involved.

Cargill, however, confirmed that its offices in Italy were raided and they were co-operating with EU officials.

"We understand that the Commission is visiting a number of offices across the industry to gather various information," a spokesperson told just-food. "We have provided full co-operation and assistance to their representatives during their visits and will continue to provide whatever help they need."

The European Commission said that the fact it carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour; nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

Another US agribusiness group, Bunge, was named in a Reuters report as one of the companies raided by EU officials.

Bunge could not be reached for immediate comment.