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Food supply

Global wheat supply shortage spikes prices, worries importers

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: food supply, agriculture, food shortage

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(NewsTarget) An anticipated shortage in worldwide wheat supply led to panic buying on August 23 and caused prices of the grain to skyrocket. This has led to fears that worldwide food prices may rise, with devastating consequences for the poor.

The panic began when Canada announced an anticipated wheat harvest 20 percent smaller than the previous year. The International Grains Council predicted that global supply will fall short of demand by seven million metric tons in 2007-2008, with an anticipated global harvest of only 607 million metric tons.

In response, import-dependent Japan and Taiwan began buying up vast quantities of wheat, driving the price up to an all-time high of $7.54 per bushel.

Food industry groups anticipate that the higher prices will be felt by consumers not just in wheat products, but also in meat, eggs and dairy, as the price of animal feed rises correspondingly.

The surge in wheat prices has added fuel to the debate over the potential perils of the booming biofuels industry, which critics have accused of diverting critical food resources toward fuel production -- thereby, critics charge, effectively prioritizing the fuel of the rich over the lives of the poor. In response to this concern, China passed a law in June banning the conversion into biofuel of any grains needed for food production.

According to a report by consultancy Frost & Sullivan, it is hard to prove that biofuels have had any impact on global food prices to date, in part because the relationship between supplies of biofuel stock, animal feed and grain for human consumption is complex.

In most cases, one grain can be substituted for another in animal feed, with little impact on cost as long as one type grain remains cheap. This is not always the case for human food, however, where rising prices of a key staple can lead to widespread health problems as the poor are forced to do without.

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