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Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann probably wasn't around to enjoy the burgers at your Memorial Day barbecue, but she's very concerned about how much you paid for them.
In an interview on New Hampshire Now on WKXL-AM in Concord, N.H., Bachmann sympathized with the plight of grillmasters everywhere by noting that the price of cook-out items have skyrocketed. And she laid the blame at the feet of President Barack Obama.
"If you threw a barbecue yesterday for the Memorial weekend, it was 29 percent more expensive than last year because Barack Obama's policies have led to groceries going up 29 percent," she said.
Anybody who has bought hamburger lately knows how prices have increased. But did you pay 29 percent more for your Memorial Day meal? And is the president to blame?
Bachmann's campaign did not respond to our inquiries for the source of their figures, but Internet searches took us to a New York Post article titled "That cookout will cost you 29 percent more this year."
The May 24 story reported that hosts of a typical Memorial Day cookout, which includes a menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, lettuce, tomatoes, potato salad, ice cream and coffee for 12 people, would spend an average of $199 – about 29 percent higher than May 2010.
Lettuce prices have increased 28 percent during that time, reporter Paul Tharp wrote in the story. "Want tomatoes on that burger?" Tharp wrote. "It'll cost you 86 percent more than last year."
But the 29 percent was based on New York-area prices.
Tharp told us in an e-mail that his team got the prices of the selected items at New York area grocery stores and compared them to the May 2010 and May 2011 regional prices listed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index. The CPI is the country's most widely used measure of inflation.
"The BLS came up with the price histories, and our onsite price-checks in supermarkets provided the latest price updates," Tharp said.
These numbers showed the average increase at about 29 percent, he said.
But PolitiFact found the national numbers were much lower. According to last month's CPI survey, the price of ground beef has jumped 13.6 percent since May 2010. Frankfurters have increased by 8 percent; coffee by 16 percent; lettuce by 7.8; tomatoes by 2.4; and ice cream by 5.6 percent. Potatoes, the main ingredient in potato salad, has increased by 15.9 percent since May 2010. (The CPI survey doesn’t measure potato salad).
We averaged those increases and came up with 9.9 percent -- a substantial increase, but much lower than the 29 percent that Bachmann claimed.
Overall, food has increased by 3.6 percent from last year, according to the CPI listings.
Is Obama responsible for the increase in food prices?
Not much. Industry experts told us that food prices are affected by many different factors ranging from weather, energy costs for transportation and production, and supply and demand.
Bill Cook, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said that environmental conditions, including dry cattle pastures in parts of the United States and droughts in Colombia have affected the price of products like beef and coffee.
An increase in the wealth of countries across the globe, especially China and other Asian nations, has boosted the demand for food, driving up costs, Cook said.
Experts told us that the occupant of the White House doesn't have much impact on the price of food.
"Although policies can have an impact on food prices, it seems to be the case that most ups and downs in food prices over the years are a function of the underlying supply and demand factors that go into the system," said Ephraim Leibtag, deputy director of research for the federal Economic Research Service's food economics division.
Lately, high energy costs have also played a big role.
The price of fuel, used to process and transport food, has risen dramatically. On May 30, regular gas averaged about $3.74 per gallon across the country – about $1 more than May 30, 2010.
President Obama has acknowledged the cost of high gas prices. Last month, he announced efforts to conduct lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, as well as to extend drilling leases off the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan Coast.
But analysts say the president isn’t to blame for the high oil prices.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration, a federal agency that tracks energy prices, credits political events in the Middle East and Africa, as well as changes in inventory levels and improving economies across the globe among the factors contributing to the price of crude oil.
"Oil prices are responding more to fundamentals in the marketplace, as well as the economic downturn," said Mary Welge, a senior editor with Oil Price Information Service, an industry news publication. "I can't remember the last political decision pertaining to oil companies that might have had a real influence on oil prices."
Bachmann says Obama is to blame for a 29 percent increase in Memorial Day barbecues, but she's way off on both counts. Her figure comes from a New York Post article that relied on prices in the expensive New York metro area; national figures show the increase was much lower, about 9.9 percent. And she blames Obama for the increase when experts say he and his policies have little, if any, impact on food prices. We find her claim False.
New York Post, article "That cookout will cost you 29 percent more this year," May 24, 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "CPI Detailed Report," May 2011
Interview with Ephraim Leibtag, deputy director of research for the federal Economic Research Service's food economics division at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 16, 2011
Interview with Bill Cook, economist with the Consumer Price Index, June 16, 2011
Interview with Mary Welge, senior editor with Oil Price Information Service, June 17, 2011
E-mail interview with Paul Tharp, New York Post reporter, June 16, 2011
U.S. Energy Information Administration, web page: "What’s up (and down) with gas prices?" (accessed June 16, 2011).
The White House, press release,"Weekly Address: President Obama Announces New Plans to Increase Responsible Domestic Oil Production," May 14, 2011
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