I wrote last week that we should probably cover the link between food and broader issues a little more here on Eat Drink Better. With a nudge from our site director, Becky Striepe, and network founder/publisher, David Anderson, I’ve decided to cover the complicated but important topic of rising food prices today.
The LA Times had a decent piece on this topic recently that included a number of interesting food statistics. What of the following did you know?
- Wholesale food prices jumped 3.9% in February (compared to January) in the U.S., the highest month-to-month increase in 37 years.
- Americans spend about 10% of their income on food, while people in some countries spend about 70% of their income on this basic necessity.
- Some key crops have seen price increases of 40-80% over the last year (wheat prices have increased 80%).
- World food prices hit a record high this year and starvation is growing in countries where people spend 40-70% of their income on food. 44 million more people have been forced into hunger this year according to the World Bank.
What is Causing Food Prices to Rise?
Worldwide, high crude oil prices, increasing extreme weather events, population growth and economic development of poorer countries, crop-based biofuels, political conflict and unrest in the Middle East, and slowing crop yield growth are all factors contributing to rising food prices.
In the U.S., you can add that the value of the dollar has decreased significantly.
What Does the Future Hold?
Not Tackling Climate Change = Higher Food Prices
Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are something we are just seeing the beginning of, especially if we don’t switch to a clean energy economy soon and take other steps to cut global warming pollution (i.e. reduce our foodprint by eating vegetarian or vegan more and choose greener transportation options). The extreme weather events we’ve been seeing in the past couple years are likely to be the norm in a few decades if we don’t take action soon, and the extreme weather events will be,.. well,.. more extreme. So, food prices are likely to continue rising from that.
Peak Oil is Peak Oil… Higher Food Prices
The consensus seems to be pretty strong that we have reached global peak oil now or will very soon. (See: Peak Oil is a Comin’, WikiLeaks Confirms; Peak Oil & Sustainable Development Expert Talks about the Situation Today In-Depth [VIDEOS]; Peak Oil This Year, Leaked German Military Report Says.) Meanwhile, again, large countries like China and India are developing fast and requiring more and more of that oil. So, oil prices will continue rising, probably quite fast… and that means that food prices will continue rising as a result as well.
Global Warming & Peak Oil Cause More Political Unrest… & Higher Food Prices
From both of the things above, expect unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere to continue. I think you’re seeing the trend….
Unsustainable Biofuels Policies Could be Addressed
Biofuels policy is something governments can theoretically change. We’ll see if they do, though.
Eco-Farming Could Help
The United Nations recently reported that eco-farming is the way to feed the world. Others contend that more GMO development is needed — I don’t buy that for a second and think it actually reduces crop yields in the mid- to long-term (for a number of reasons), but it is clearly one of the big claims the GMO industry is trying to convince the world of. And, with tremendous financial resources and government ties, it is steering food policy to a considerable degree.
What does the future hold? My guess is: much higher food prices, much more hunger and starvation, and a need to re-adjust household budgets. Of course, as I mentioned above, we can do our part to keep food prices as low as possible by fighting global warming, growing our own food, and using green transport.
Photo Credit: fazen