Italy's competition authority has fined 26 pasta makers a total of EUR12.5m (US$15.9m) for allegedly taking part in a price-fixing scheme.

The 26 pasta companies, members of the Unione Industriale Pastai Italiani (UNIPI), collectively agreed to restrict competition and harmonise price increases, a spokesperson for the Italian antitrust authority, Autorita' Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, told just-food.

"These companies entered into agreements that diminished the bargaining power of retailers to resist price increases or find cheaper prices elsewhere, all of which was to the detriment of the consumer," the spokesperson said.  

The scheme was in operation from October 2006 until at least the beginning of March 2008, the watchdog claimed.

Italian consumers have reacted angrily to the increasing price of pasta. The price paid by retailers has increased 51.8% between 2006 and 2008, while consumer prices have risen 36% in that period, the authority said.

The companies accused control about 90% of the Italian dry pasta market and include the likes of Barilla, the world's largest pasta maker, and Garofalo. 

However, the UNIPI has denied the allegations.

A spokesperson for the organisation told just-food: "Our membership has not established an agreement to influence price that is detrimental to the interests of consumers. Price increases in semolina are the consequence of the rising cost of wheat - much of which has been absorbed by the industry."

In the first half of 2008 the average cost of wheat was up 220% compared to 2005 prices, UNIPI said.