World food prices hit record high: UN agency

AFP
February 3, 2011

World food prices reached their highest level ever recorded in January and are set to keep rising for months, the UN food agency said on Thursday, warning that the hardest-hit countries could face turmoil.

Rising food prices have been cited among the driving forces behind recent popular revolts in north Africa, including the uprising in Egypt and the toppling of Tunisia’s long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

And in its latest survey, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said its index which monitors monthly price changes for a variety of staples averaged 231 points in January — the highest level since records began in 1990.

“The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating. These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come,” FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian said in a statement.

The Index rose by 3.4 percent from December — with big increases in particular for dairy, cereal and oil prices. The rises were most significant in China, India, Indonesia and Russia, data from FAO’s monthly report showed.

“There are a lot of factors that could spark turmoil in countries and food is one of them,” Abbassian said, pointing out however that several countries have become better at managing prices after a series of riots in 2007 and 2008.

“They have learnt from previous episodes,” he said, adding however: “These are obviously not very easy times. There is now no hope that prices will return to anything we can consider normal, at least until the summer.”

The data from the Rome-based FAO showed that prices for dairy products rose by 6.2 percent from December, oils and fats gained 5.6 percent, while cereals went up by 3.0 percent because of lower global supply of wheat and maize.

“The increase in prices follows stronger export demand during the last month and concerns about tightening supplies of high quality wheat. The market was also supported by higher oil prices and a weaker US dollar,” FAO said.

Meat prices remained broadly stable due to a fall in prices in Europe caused by last month’s scare over dioxin poisoning in eggs and pork in Germany, compensated by a slight increase in export prices from Brazil and the US.

“High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food,” Abbassian said.

Global aid agency Oxfam said: “Millions of people’s lives are at risk.”

“Poor people in developing countries spend between 50 and 80 percent of their income on food, making higher prices, as well as unpredictable prices, a serious threat to their ability to eat,” Oxfam said in a statement.

Oxfam blamed the price rises on reduced production due to bad weather, increased oil prices making fertilizer and transport more expensive, increased demand for biofuels, export restrictions and financial speculation.

It called on governments to implement social protection programmes for the people hardest hit by the price rises and to help control prices “by increasing support and investments in small scale agriculture.”

The FAO data showed the Food Price Index hit 200 points over the whole of 2008 at the height of the 2007/2008 food crisis. It breached that level for the first time in October 2010 with 205 points.

In Africa, Somalia has been particularly hard hit by a rise in prices for red sorghum and maize due to a poor 2010 crop, while Uganda has seen a rise in the price of maize because of strong demand from neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile ongoing unrest in Ivory Coast had helped push up prices in West Africa as a whole because of its status as a key transport hub, it said.

But the most dramatic rises were seen in Asia and in particular in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and China, it added.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup is now´Corn Sugar´

New name, same poison.  People wake-up to the dangers of High-Fructose Corn Syrup and send consumption of products with the ingredient down to a 20-year low

AP

The makers of high fructose corn syrup want to sweeten its image with a new name: corn sugar. The Corn Refiners Association applied Tuesday to the federal government for permission to use the name on food labels. The group hopes a new name will ease confusion about the sweetener, which is used in soft drinks, bread, cereal and other products.

Americans’ consumption of corn syrup has fallen to a 20-year low on consumer concerns that it is more harmful or more likely to cause obesity than ordinary sugar, perceptions for which there is little scientific evidence.

However, some scientists have linked consumption of full-calorie soda — the vast majority of which is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup — to obesity.

The Food and Drug Administration could take two years to decide on the name, but that’s not stopping the industry from using the term now in advertising.

There’s a new online marketing campaign at http://www.cornsugar.com and on television. Two new commercials try to alleviate shopper confusion, showing people who say they now understand that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.”

Renaming products has succeeded before. For example, low eurcic acid rapeseed oil became much more popular after becoming “canola oil” in 1988. Prunes tried to shed a stodgy image by becoming “dried plums” in 2000.

The new name would help people understand the sweetener, said Audrae Erickson, president of the Washington-based group.

“It has been highly disparaged and highly misunderstood,” she said. She declined to say how much the campaign costs.

Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally the same, and there’s no evidence that the sweetener is any worse for the body than sugar, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The bottom line is people should consume less of all sugars, Jacobson said.

“Soda pop sweetened with sugar is every bit as conducive to obesity as soda pop sweetened with high fructose corn syrup,” he said.

The American Medical Association says there’s not enough evidence yet to restrict the use of high fructose corn syrup, although it wants more research.

Still, Americans increasingly are blaming high fructose corn syrup and avoiding it. First lady Michelle Obama has said she does not want her daughters eating it.

Parents such as Joan Leib scan ingredient labels and will not buy anything with it. The mother of two in Somerville, Mass., has been avoiding the sweetener for about a year to reduce sweeteners in her family’s diet.

“I found it in things that you would never think needed it, or should have it,” said Leib, 36. “I found it in jars of pickles, in English muffins and bread. Why do we need extra sweeteners?”

Many companies are responding by removing it from their products. Last month, Sara Lee switched to sugar in two of its breads. Gatorade, Snapple and Hunt’s Ketchup very publicly switched to sugar in the past two years.

The average American ate 35.7 pounds of high fructose corn syrup last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s down 21 percent from 45.4 pounds 10 years before.

Cane and beet sugar, meanwhile, have hovered around 44 pounds per person per year since the mid-1980s, after falling rapidly in the 1970s, when high fructose corn syrup — a cheaper alternative to sugar — gained favor with soft drink makers.

With sales falling in the U.S., the industry is growing in emerging markets like Mexico, and revenue has been steady at $3 billion to $4 billion a year, said Credit Suisse senior analyst Robert Moskow. There are five manufacturers in the U.S.: Archer Daniels Midland Inc., Corn Products International, Cargill, Roquette America, and Tate & Lyle.

Corn refiners say their new name better describes the sweetener.

“The name ‘corn sugar’ more accurately reflects the source of the food (corn), identifies the basic nature of the food (a sugar), and discloses the food’s function (a sweetener),” the petition said.

Will shoppers swallow the new name?

The public is skeptical, so the move will be met with criticism, said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“This isn’t all that much different from any of the negative brands trying to embrace new brand names,” he said, adding the change is similar to what ValuJet — whose name was tarnished by a deadly crash in 1996 — did when it bought AirTran’s fleet and took on its name.

“They’re not saying this is a healthy vitamin, or health product,” he said. “They’re just trying to move away from the negative associations.”