The United Nations food price Index rose for the sixth month in a row to a record high of 214.7 in December 2010. This overtakes the previous high of 213.5 in June 2008 when food riots across the globe caused many deaths.
This is the highest level that the index has reached since records began in 1990, which has prompted warnings of food prices reaching 'danger levels'. Since June the price of wheat has nearly doubled, pork has risen by a quarter over 2010 and sugar has surged to a 30 year high.
There are fears that prices could go higher still with warnings of droughts in Argentina, the floods in Australia and cold weather in the Northern hemisphere. Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO economist, told the Guardian "There is still room for prices to go up much higher, if for example the dry conditions in Argentina tend to become a drought, and if we start having problems with winterkill in the northern hemisphere for the wheat crops,"
Food producers have already been warned that the price of wheat is expected to go up again, which will drive the price of bread and pasta up.
The concern is that the world's poorest and neediest will be left to starve as these commodities are moved around the world in search of the highest prices. Some of it rotting beyond use on the extended journeys.
Many people are laying the blame at the foot of speculators who are said to have withdrawn from their money from places like the mortgage market in favour of gains in staple goods. But, apart from a capitalist system that chases greed not need, there are other drivers. Biofuels for example divert food from the mouths of the hungry into the ever hungry fuel tanks of the richer nations. As one of the Guardian commenters (smartse) pointed out, in Jan 2010 the Guardian reported that 25% of the US maize crop makes ethanol and the International Food Policy Research Institute calculated in June 2008 that corn could be 20% cheaper if it was not used for biofuels.
So speculation may not be the only issue where food prices are concerned.
Should food prices continue to rise not only will there be an increased likelihood of civil unrest there will be more calls for the use of genetically modified food to fill the gap.
Nothing much changes where money, food and human life is concerned. Consider the Irish potato famine when food was exported whilst people starved to death.
'Other ministers in the British government took an even harder line – they believed the Irish should be 'left alone' to deal with the problems themselves. They also sent more military personnel to Ireland to ensure the exports of grain out of Ireland would not be tampered with. The irony is that at the height of the Famine, Ireland was producing food, but the vast majority of it was exported, landlords seeking a better market price, and the native Irish were too poor to buy the food they themselves were farming. Money was clearly more important to the British government than human lives.' From 'What was the Irish Potato Famine?' (www.essortment.com/all/whatwasirishp_rhhn.htm)
Is this the sort of world we wish to live in?