An action plan ordered by EU ministers to deal with high food prices will suggest detailed competition probes of Europe's food retail sector, because of concerns that supermarkets maybe forcing consumers to pay too much for food.

The European Commission's ruling 'College' will debate a 'Communication' (policy paper) on food prices next Wednesday (3 December).

A summary seen by said: "The structural causes of the recent price hike remain in place. Against the background of the economic slowdown it is, therefore, now more important than ever to ensure that decreases in food commodity prices are passed on to consumers - thereby boosting their purchasing power."

A Commission official added: "We have said that we will look into the retail sector: how it is organised, from the point of view of competition."

Although the paper was drafted by agriculture and finance officials, the Commission's competition directorate general has the authority to act against abuses of 'dominant positions' by large companies in any sector.