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The rich get hungrier

Amartya Sen, New York Times
WILL the food crisis that is menacing the lives of millions ease up – or grow worse over time? The answer may be both.

… It is a tale of two peoples. In one version of the story, a country with a lot of poor people suddenly experiences fast economic expansion, but only half of the people share in the new prosperity. The favored ones spend a lot of their new income on food, and unless supply expands very quickly, prices shoot up. The rest of the poor now face higher food prices but no greater income, and begin to starve. Tragedies like this happen repeatedly in the world.

… Much discussion is rightly devoted to the division between haves and have-nots in the global economy, but the world’s poor are themselves divided between those who are experiencing high growth and those who are not.

… There is also a high-tech version of the tale of two peoples. Agricultural crops like corn and soybeans can be used for making ethanol for motor fuel. So the stomachs of the hungry must also compete with fuel tanks.

Amartya Sen, who teaches economics and philosophy at Harvard, received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998 and is the author, most recently, of “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.”
(28 May 2008)
No mention of the rises in prices of oil, natural gas and fertilizers. -BA

Food banks squeezed by prices, demand

Evelyn Nieves, Seattle Times
27 May 2008 by Newspaper. Archived on 28 May 2008.
… Hoffman, 55, is one of the growing number of “nontraditional” food-pantry clients across the country. They include formerly independent senior citizens, homeowners and people who used to call themselves “middle-class” – those who are not used to fretting over the price of milk.

In Washington state, “We’re hearing dozens of these stories every week,” said Shelley Rotondo, executive director of Northwest Harvest, which distributes food to 300 hunger programs statewide and operates a food bank in downtown Seattle.

“A lot of working folks are coming to us, people who were making it, but they’ve been pushed over the edge because of the cost of food and the cost of fuel,” Rotondo said.

Rotondo said food banks are “getting squeezed on both ends,” weathering sharp increases in food and fuel costs at the same time the need is increasing. The number of clients at the Seattle food bank has risen 10 percent in the past three months, while the agency has had to pay “fuel surcharges” adding up to 50 percent to the fuel cost of some shipments.

“What scares me the most is the uncertainty about where this is going to stop,” Rotondo said.

April saw the biggest jump in food prices in 18 years, according to the Labor Department. At the same time, workers’ average weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, dropped for the seventh straight month.
(28 May 2008)

Soaring energy prices ‘force up cost of food’

Steve Hawkes, The Times

One of Britain’s biggest food producers has given warning that spiralling energy prices will soon push up the cost of everyday products such as pizzas and biscuits.

Northern Foods said that, as well as continued pressure from higher commodity costs, it was facing increases of 60 per cent in the cost of gas and electricity, which it uses for baking its products.

Stefan Barden, chief executive, said rising wholesale energy prices could be responsible for price increases of up to 5 per cent on pizza and biscuits over the next six to 12 months.
(27 May 2008)

FAQs: Soaring cost of oil felt at the checkout

Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian
What has happened to food prices in the UK?

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics are that annual inflation in food was 7.2% in April, roughly double inflation overall.

Certain types of food have gone up much faster than others – milk, cheese and eggs up 15.7%, fats up 15.8%, meat 4.1% and bread and cereals 8.5%, compared with last year’s ONS figures. These foods are affected by soaring commodity prices for grains.

Our food systems are now heavily dependent on oil, for production and distribution. Much of current food inflation is related to dramatic rises in the price of oil. Much higher figures for food inflation have been given by the tabloid press, based on data from internet shopping comparison website
(29 May 2008)
The Guardian has an entire section devoted to the global food crisis.