The Venezuelan government yesterday (11 February) announced its intention to introduce measures that would allow officials to take control of food distribution chains, including supermarkets, if services were interrupted.

The move, Industry and Commerce Minister Cristina Iglesias told a news conference, is designed to solve supply problems that have caused shortages of milk, meat and sugar throughout the country.

The government claims that these shortages are the result of 'speculators', such as supermarket operators, hording food to drive prices up. However, the industry has blamed shortages on the government's price control regulations that force food retailers to sell products at a loss. 

Privately owned supermarkets in Venezuela suspended sales of beef last week after one chain was shut-down for 48 hours because it sold meat at prices above those fixed by the government.

Vice-president Jorge Rodriguez also announced that to maintain meat prices the government has eliminated value-added tax, Tax Valor Agregado (IVA), on various food products. "The elimination of the IVA to some foods is decided, as it is the case of the bovine meat, the meat of pig, mayonnaise [and] oats," he said.

"All the communities will help to construct a mother country without speculators, without monopolies and without blackmail. Also, without strikes of industrialists… with some foods that they hide, such as meat, chicken, and sugar to increase the prices," emphasised Rodriguez.