by Marion Nestle
Jan 7 2011

Bad news on food prices: up, up, and away

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has just released its 2010 food price index.  Compared to 2002-2004, commodity food prices sharply increased, especially those of sugars and fats.

The new index is higher than in 2008 when people throughout the world rioted in protest.  It is also at the highest level recorded since the index began in 1990.

What’s going on?  In 2008, FAO explained the crisis as the result of the combined effects of:

  • Competition for cropland from the growth in biofuels
  • Low cereal stocks
  • High oil prices
  • Speculation in food markets
  • Extreme weather events

I’ve discussed other possible explanations I’ve collected in previous posts.

This time, supply problems in grains, sugars, and meat are making the problemworse.  FAO experts are predicting that prices will go even higher this year.

High food prices are a disaster for the poor and are also a ticket to social disorder.   World leaders: get to work!

Added clarifications: It turns out that the FAO food price index is not inflation-adjusted.  Oops.  This means that the prices are not necessarily higher than they were in 2008. Nevertheless, food riots are already happening.  Ben Grossman-Cohen of Oxfam sends this report of such disturbances in Algeria, for example.

  • Marion,

    It seems like the cost of low nutritional value/undesirable foods stuffs is increasing.

    It may be a good moment to help people transition away from these dangerous foods to ones that are more nutritionally sound. For example, replacing meat with pulses and nuts.

  • Phil

    Imagine if Biotechnology had not been introduced in the mid nineties what we would be paying today for food!!!!
    Thanks God for GMOs!!!!

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  • Is this a way to keep the poor poorer and the rich richer? I don’t think so. Considering how much oil India and China are starting to consume don’t be alarmed with higher prices in oil and commodities.

    Buy your oil stocks now! haha

  • Anthro

    We’ve been warned of this for a long time, which doesn’t do much to ease the suffering of those who will be hit the hardest, but maybe it will jump start some kind of widespread rebellion.

    The one that bothers me the most, and the one that would be the easiest to diminish through legislation, is the SPECULATION in commodities. Even biotechnology can’t save us from that.

  • Kat Eutsler

    Hi Marion,

    I was just wondering what you thought about this article:,0,6397356.story

    Can’t wait to see how it turns out and what the new food guide pyramid looks like.