Officials row over Lanzhou's precious beef noodles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2007, 12:00am

The humble bowl of beef noodles is at the centre of a war of words between the price watchdog in Lanzhou , Gansu , and the country's top planning body over price caps on the local staple.

The Lanzhou Bureau of Commodity Prices took the unusual step of calling a press briefing on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to rebut National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) criticism of the city's decision to freeze beef noodle prices late last month.

The Guangzhou Daily reported that the price of an ordinary bowl of beef noodles had shot up by 36 per cent in a year to about 3 yuan, prompting authorities in Lanzhou to limit prices to 2.5 yuan a bowl.

The increases followed sharp price rises for food, including flour and beef, but authorities in Lanzhou also accused noodle shop owners of deliberately pushing up prices.

The bureau said it stood by its decision and the NDRC had little idea of what beef noodles meant to the residents of Lanzhou.

Food outlets in central Lanzhou sell an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 bowls of noodles a day and annual sales of beef noodles in Lanzhou could exceed 700 million yuan.

Lanzhou office clerk Pan Bo said it would be better for the market to decide the price of things like noodles.

But, like the majority of the community, he felt the cap on noodle prices was necessary 'because the people here are sensitive to noodle prices in the same way that Guangdong people care about the price of yum cha'.

Beijing Technology and Business University associate professor Geng Liping said prices for beef noodles and other food items should be decided by the market. 'They [the government] should not try to intervene in the noodle market even it's out of concern for the well-being of the vast majority,' Professor Geng said.

She said the government could work out a subsidy scheme to minimise the impact of price rises if they cared about the underprivileged.

Professor Geng said the arbitrary cap on prices would be counterproductive because it would force owners of noodle shops to either go out of business or cut back on the quantity and quality of their product.