Zimbabwe's Economic Crisis Leads to Bad Breath, Soaring Bread Prices

In Zimbabwe's troubled economy, the price of bread rose by 40 percent Tuesday, the third increase this year, and a consumer watchdog warned consignments of counterfeit black-market toothpaste left users with bad breath or worse.

Bakers blamed the bread hike on wheat shortages and soaring costs of ingredients and gasoline in the troubled southern African nation with 1,043 percent inflation, the highest rate in the world.

The private Standards Association said samples of a toothpaste masquerading under an international brand name lacked mint flavor and contained excessive yeast and bacteria that could cause ear, nose, throat and chest infections.

More than 90 cases of the counterfeit toothpaste were found at a Harare warehouse and more shipments were reportedly on the way from Asia, the association said, adding consumers had complained.

The worst economic crisis since independence in 1980 has seen the collapse of many local industries, causing brisk black-market trading in scarce commodities and spurring sales of cheaper, usually poor quality clothing, footwear and manufactured goods from Asia.

The retail price of brand-name toothpaste made locally reached a record $7.70 a tube this month. Many poor Zimbabweans are resorting to salt as a substitute for toothpaste.

A standard loaf of white bread sold Tuesday for $1.28; while better quality loaves cost about a third more. In January, the standard loaf cost 45 cents.

The price of flour, fats, sugar and other baking ingredients and gasoline needed to deliver the goods nearly trebled since January, said Burombo Mudumo, head of the independent Bakers' Association.

"We have to increase the price of bread to save the industry from collapsing," he said.

Economic meltdown has largely been blamed on disruptions to the agriculture-based economy since the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000 to transfer land to blacks.

Acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and medicine and other essential imports, along with regular power and water outages, have crippled production in the former regional breadbasket and revenues from agricultural and manufactured exports, mining and tourism have dwindled.