October 7, 2010

Disagreement over bread weight

The Mozambican government and the country's bakers have yet to reach consensus about the weight of the subsidised bread sold in the bakeries. Following the riots against price rises in Maputo on 1-2 September, the government agreed to subsidise bread, so that the prices of bread could revert to their pre-September levels. For every 50 kilo sack of wheat flour used by a bakery, the owner receives a subsidy of 200 meticais (about 5.6 US dollars). But the quid pro quo for this was that the bakers must not short change their customers by selling underweight loaves. A 250 gram loaf sold for 5.5 meticais must really weigh 250 grams.

Minister of Industry and Trade, Antonio Fernando met with bakers from Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola to discuss the weight of loaves, and the possibility of finding alternatives to wheat flour. "In the bakeries I visited last week, I found loaves weighing 170 grams, when by law they ought to weigh 250", said Fernando. But the bakers disagreed with the Minister about what the 250 grams referred to. For the bakers, this was the weight of the dough before baking - for the Minister it meant the weight of the finished loaf taken out of the oven.

But at the meeting the National Norms and Quality Institute (INNOQ) could show the bakers a colonial decree of 1941 which states that norms on the weight of bread refer to the baked loaves, and not to the amount of dough used. Since colonial legislation that does not conflict with the Mozambican constitution or with laws passed since independence remains in force, the 1941 decree is still valid.

The chairperson of the Mozambican Bakers' Association (AMOPAO) told reporters that the bakers are unaware of the documents cited by INNOQ. None of the bakers at the meeting knew about the 1941 decree. „I've been working in this city for about 30 years and this is the first time I've seen this law. People don't know about it", said a representative of Padaria Europeia, one of Maputo's oldest bakeries.

The bakers argue that, for the final loaf to weigh 250 grams, about 300 grams of dough must be used - which would mean putting up the price of bread, the very thing the government is trying to avoid. "With this weight, either we put up the price of bread, or the bakeries close", declared another baker, Telma Churi. She pointed out that the price of flour is not the only headache faced by bakers - there are other costs of production including electricity, water, yeast, firewood and wages. "Your concerns are fair", admitted Fernando, "but my concern is what we can do to end complaints about the weight of bread. We have to reach consensus on this question - even if we have to say that a loaf costing 5.5 meticais weighs 180 grams. There must be transparency in this".

Unwittingly, the government's bread subsidy has raised other problems. It is now clear that for decades bakers have been selling underweight loaves - and until recently the public did not question the weight. Now there seem to be two possible solutions - sell a loaf of less than 200 grams for 5.5 meticais, or raise the price of a 250 gram loaf. Neither is likely to win much popular support. Given the lack of consensus, the meeting agreed that AMOPAO will consult its members to find a solution which will then be presented to the government. (AIM)

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