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Cheap Food Bubble Has Burst: Expect to Pay More to Eat From Now On

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: food supply, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Food prices are only going to keep rising, and will likely never return to their prior levels, the Times newspaper has reported food experts as saying.

Already Bangladesh, Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines and several countries in West Africa have experienced rioting over the high costs of basic staples such as rice, wheat and soy. Even in wealthier countries, the rising cost of food, coupled with increasing fuel prices, has proved the last straw pushing many people over the brink into poverty and hunger.

"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," said Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations (U.N.) World Food Program.

The U.N. Food Agency estimates that 100 million people worldwide are at risk of going hungry due to higher food prices. Not just because they cannot afford the buy their own food, but also because aid agencies will be unable to purchase and give away as much food on their limited budgets.

Shortages in supply coupled with increased demand from a rising population have pushed up the prices of staple foods dramatically in the past year. According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), global wheat prices have increased by 130 percent since March 2007, while the price of soy has gone up 87 percent over the same time period. Rice prices have tripled, leading several countries to place a halt on rice exports and major U.S. retailer Sam's Club to place a limit on how much rice customers may purchase in one store visit. In the United Kingdom, the price of butter has increased by 62 percent. According to John Bason, finance director of Associated British Foods, corn oil prices in the United States have increased threefold, which is expected to push up vegetable oil prices worldwide.

The rising price of staples such as grains and oils in turn pushes up the prices of other foods, such as bread and pasta. Even the price of eggs has increased by 61 percent, according to MySupermarket.co.uk.

A number of factors have contributed to critical food shortages, which have in turn led to high prices. Recent droughts and other climate upsets linked to global warming have led to poor harvests, while the rising cost of oil has made both production and transport of food more expensive. In addition, an increasing amount of land is going to produce animal feed or biofuels, rather than to grow food directly for human consumption.

"The diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world," a recent UNESCO report said.

Furthermore, the degradation of farmland around the world has made less land available for food production. Much of this degradation is directly due to modern industrial farming techniques, UNESCO noted, which are responsible for more than a third of the most degraded land on Earth.

In response to the food crisis, the British government plans to urge the European Union to reconsider its goal to supply 10 percent of European transport fuels from biofuel sources by 2020. Sources from the office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the United Kingdom would not aim for more than 5 percent, and that any higher European target would need to be implemented in a more "sustainable" fashion. In addition, Rural Affairs Minister Jonathan Shaw will meet with representatives of consumer groups to find out what effects higher food prices are having on the poorest sectors of British society.

Finally, the Department for International Development has pledged 400 million ($790 million) over the next five years to research hardier, higher-yielding crop varieties, 30 million ($60 million) in aid to the World Food Program and 25 million ($49 million) in food aid for Ethiopia.

Yet according to the UNESCO report, which was the product of more than three years of research by 400 experts, a more radical response than this is needed. Concluding that technological advances in agriculture have failed to provide benefits to the world's neediest, the report said that the global food crisis can only be resolved by using more natural farming techniques, such as crop rotation and organic fertilizing methods, and by increased consumption of local foods rather than food transported over vast distances.

"The status quo is no longer an option," UNESCO adviser Guilhem Calvo said. "We must develop agriculture less dependent on fossil fuels that favors the use of locally available resources."

Sources for this story include: business.timesonline.co.uk, news.bbc.co.uk.

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