An Eye on Global Food Prices and Supply

July 20th, 2011


Category: Miscellaneous, Policy, Sugar

global_food_priceFifty-two food commodities such as sugar, meat and dairy price indexes increased a staggering amount during the month of June. In fact, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated on July 12 that the index rose to 233.8 points from 231.4 points in May, but hit an all-time high of 237.7 in February. Even more alarmingly, without action, the prices of these very basic commodities will likely double in the next 20 years.

Only 15 plant and eight animal species comprise 90 percent of the world’s food supply, with wheat, rice, corn, millet and sorghum providing 70 percent of food energy, increasing the impact this food commodity cost jump will have.

However, as the world tackles and copes with ever-growing food prices, another dilemma provides an obstacle to the global food supply: roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, totaling 1.3 billion tons per year, according to new statistics from the FAO. Analysts now wonder if global food production can keep up with an expanding population when consumers consistently purchase or cook too much food, discard “imperfect” produce or when supermarkets over-order—practices Tristram Stuart, contributing author of the Worldwatch Institute’s “State of the World 2011: Nourishing the Planet,” calls “a profligate negligence toward food.”

Even though close to 1 billion people remain continually hungry, nearly 222 million tons of food goes to waste each year in industrialized countries, a quantity almost equaling the amount developing countries produce annually, the FAO reports. In fact, “dangerous levels” of food prices pushed approximately 44 million people into poverty since June, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in February.

“Humanity is approaching – and in some places exceeding – the limits of potential farmland and water supplies that can be used for farming,” notes Worldwatch Institute Executive Director Robert Engelman.

The Worldwatch Institute’s report offers the following three low-cost approaches to maximize food production efficiency and sustainability. If countries band together, food can be transported to the people who truly need it, landfill waste can be reduced and storage and processing practices can be improved to help offset this ever-evolving problem. Additionally, industrialized countries possess various tools to prevent food from spoiling such as pasteurization and preservation facilities, climate-controlled storage units and shelf-life expanding chemicals.

“We’re already facing food price spikes and the early impacts of human-caused climate change on food production,” notes Engelman. “We can’t afford to overlook simple, low-cost fixes to reduce food waste.”

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