In the news

MassPIRG
|
The Boston Globe
By
Michael Norton and Andy Metzger

With just two senators present, the state Senate approved a bill Monday morning that food stores in Massachusetts have been pushing unsuccessfully for a decade.

Under the bill, which has already cleared the House, grocery stores in Massachusetts would no longer be required to put price tags on each item and could instead deploy price scanners for consumers to use.

If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts would become the last state in the nation to eliminate the individual price tag requirement for grocery and food stores. The supermarket industry has fought for years to stop tagging each item; consumer groups say the move is bad for shoppers trying to compare prices.
 
“We’re extremely disappointed.’’ said Deirdre Cummings, a lobbyist for theconsumer advocacy group MassPIRG who said she hoped Governor Deval Patrick would veto the law. “This is a time we ought to be providing more and better price disclosure, not less. And in the end, I think the consumers are harmed.”

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, was one of a handful of people to see the bill approved, with only state Senators Stanley Rosenberg, Democrat of Amherst, and Michael Knapik, Republican of Westfield, in the chamber.

“It’s a long time coming,” Hurst said after the vote. “It’s never gotten this far. It’s something we’ve been working on for more than a decade.”

Hurst said that after Michigan approved the law last year, Massachusetts remained the only state with an item pricing requirement.

He said studies show the law can add up to 10 percent to food prices.

“This is one of those laws that put us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Hurst.

Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, said the bill would provide more accurate pricing to the consumer as well by doing away with what he called the archaic and problematic practice of pricing each item with a pricing gun.

Flynn cited a state survey from December, which showed price scanners had a 99.46 percent record of accuracy, but Cummings said there is insufficient oversight of retailers who use the self-scanners. Cummings cited a 2009 study by the nonprofit Consumer World, which showed only 30 percent of 144 scanners surveyed were completely functional and in full compliance with regulations.

“Given the track record, we need to ensure that if we’re going to allow supermarkets to use that inferior substitute, we need to have some mechanism to ensure they’re working properly,” said Cummings, who also supports more scannersper square foot and enforcement of the regulation that requires scanners to print price tags.

She said the bill would make it more difficult for consumers to compare the price of something already in the basket with a similar item on the shelf because it would no longer be printed on the item itself.

The bill also sailed through the House in May without debate or a recorded vote.