The European Commission believes there is "significant scope to improve the functioning of the food supply chain" in order to deliver improved competitiveness, lower prices and greater choice of food products in the EU.

Although the price of food has come down "significantly" from record levels earlier this year, EU regulators believe the underlying causes for the surge in agricultural commodity prices - including regulatory restrictions, insufficient competition and speculation - have not disappeared and must be dealt with.

"In the current economic slowdown it is crucial that we send a clear message that we are serious about tackling the rigidities and other factors that prevent the markets from functioning optimally," said Joaquin Almunia, economic and monetary affairs commissioner.

Brussels warned: "Late payments by retailers or excessive fees demanded from producers for promotional offers should be reviewed."

Also, regulations on shop opening hours could also be the subject of consultations at national level, the Commission said.

Today's communication follows a request by the European Council to investigate the causes of the sharp increases in the price of food in the wake of the even stronger rise in commodity prices.