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Gioia slams price gouging

Though milk prices in the city have been higher than the national average, milk in Queens remained in the middle of the pack, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) said Sunday.

Gioia surveyed 60 supermarkets, bodegas, convenience stores and drug stores in all five boroughs as a follow-up to an investigation last year that found that 86 percent of the city’s grocery outlets were potentially overcharging for milk based on the state Department of Agriculture’s price threshold. The department has since stopped publishing the price threshold numbers on its Web site, a move Gioia said limits the public’s ability to challenge supermarket prices.

“Right now we have a system that hurts farmers, small business and ultimately parents and children by allowing the middlemen to keep prices high,” Gioia said, calling for the department to put the figures up on its Web site.

In Queens, the most expensive gallon of milk Gioia found cost $4.50. The least expensive was $2.89. Manhattan had the highest price citywide at $6, and the lowest at $2.25. In Brooklyn, milk ranged from $5.99 to $2.69. In the Bronx, a gallon cost between $4.99 and $2.50. In Staten Island, a gallon of milk ranged between $3.99 and $2.89.

Since July 2008, when the national average price for a gallon of fresh whole milk peaked at $3.96, the average nationwide price has dropped nearly 30 percent, Gioia said. By comparison, the average price for a gallon of milk in the city in July 2008 was $4.32, according to the Department of Agriculture. Gioia’s survey of 60 stores this month found that the average cost for a gallon of milk is now $3.72, a 16 percent drop.

Gioia slammed grocery retailers for keeping prices high even as delivery and wholesale milk costs dropped. But dairy farmers nationwide are calling for an increase in wholesale costs, which dropped almost 45 percent during the winter, according to the Associated Press. The price collapse destroyed farmers’ profits, putting many out of business and leading others to slaughter their herds, the AP reported.

Queens residents who suspect a store of price-gouging for milk products are asked to report the business at agmkt.state.ny.us/DI/MilkPriceGouging.html or by phone at 518-457-1772.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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