About Those Rising Food Prices

What’s this, a story about rising food prices, and no mention about global warming? Go figure.

As Suzanne Goldenberg reports in the Guardian:

Demand for biofuels in the US is driving this year’s high food prices, a report has said. It predicts that food prices are unlikely to fall back down for another two years.

The report, produced by Purdue University economists for the Farm Foundation policy organisation, said US government support for ethanol, including subsidies, had fuelled strong demand for corn over the last five years.

A dramatic rise in Chinese imports of soybeans was also putting pressure on prices and supply, the report said.

Since 2005, a growing number of US farmers have switched to corn and soybeans from other crops. Farmers in other countries have also switched to corn but, the report said, the demand kept growing.

Climate bloggers prone to attaching a global warming angle to headline stories (think Arab uprisings and Western wildfires, for example) probably won’t be playing up the biofuels/rising food prices linkage discussed in Goldenberg’s piece.

10 Responses to “About Those Rising Food Prices”

  1. Hector M. says:

    The rapid rise of food demand in Asia plus subsidized diversion of increasing amounts of land to the production of corn ethanol and oilseed-based biodiesel are the main culprits of high international prices for food commodities. If anything, the high prices are not a result of global warming, but of a (misguided and poorly designed) attempt to mitigate climate change by replacing gasoline and diesel oil with liquid agrofuels.

    Notice that these increases in agricultural commodity prices do not automatically translate into similar increases in retail-level food prices, since the raw commodities make only a small part of the retail price; e.g. the international price of the required amount of wheat grain makes about 10-15% of the price of one pound of bread or pasta. Likewise with soy beans used for soy vegetable oil, soy sauce or tofu. Or, for that matter, the maize grain needed to raise the birds or pigs that go to make a supermarket package of chicken breasts or pork chops.

  2. Hector M. says:

    More on these (and other related) issues in our new book, written in duo with my son:

    Hector Maletta & Emiliano Maletta, <i>Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in Latin America</i>, Brentwood (Essex, UK): Multi Science Publishing, 2011 (official publication date 3 Aug 2011, already available for preorder at Amazon).

  3. grypo says:

     
    The report also mentions climate change as a factor, especially moving forward.  Let’s hope hope bloggers keep that in mind.  That might be important one day when we realize we should have taken it very seriously decades earlier.


    “Most studies predict greater variability
    in rainfall and warmer weather due to climate change.
    In most world regions, these climate changes induce yield
    reductions. A recent study (Lobell, et al., 2011) estimated
    that climate change that occurred between 1980 and 2008
    has led to major crop prices already being somewhat higher
    than they would have been without the climate change.
    Predictions for the future are for much larger yield changes,
    which would lead to larger price increases. is is a concern
    with high uncertainty, but likely to be a factor of increasing
    importance in the future.”
     

  4. Ken Green says:

    This is something that has always baffled me, and that, as a believer in resilience-based climate policy, I’ve often questioned.
     
    As Grypo points out, “Most studies predict greater variability in rainfall and warmer weather due to climate change. In most world regions, these climate changes induce yield reductions.”


    So why do people alarmed about climate change, who argue that climate change is inevitable due to already-emitted GHG emissions want to make more and more of our energy system dependent on the weather? Biofuel crops, wind power, solar power, and even hydro are all far more dependent on the weather than are traditional fossil fuels, and nuclear power.

    “Climate change will make the weather more variable and chaotic, so, let’s make ourselves even more dependent on the weather!”

    Silly.

  5. intrepid_wanders says:

    gyrpo (#3): “The report also mentions climate change as a factor, especially moving forward.”

    Lobell et al 2011 is a bunch of non-sense.  The UN at FAOSTAT says otherwise in the simple graph.  That is a very simple trend.  Unless the UN is lying 😉

    Another paper like Sumner 2009 paints a more realistic picture.

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    Circular reasoning part 718:
    greater variability in rainfall and warmer weather due to climate change.”
    aka
    “climate change due to climate change”

  7. kdk33 says:

    Isn’t it amazing that warming only brings bad things.  Seriously, more rain, over longer growing seasons, expanded crop ranges, and free fertilizer equals… reduced crop production.  Please.

    It, of course, follows that crop production would rise if it was getting colder – right?

    The silliness just gets sillier.

  8. Menth says:

    It all to me seems an extrapolation of the zero-sum fallacy:
     
    Because some people in the world are wealthy other people are poor.
     
    Because there have been benefits from fossil energy there will be equal corresponding negative consequences.
     
    Not to say there aren’t negative externalities from industrial progress, absolutely there are.
     
     

  9. Sashka says:

    @ grypo
     
    Most studies predict greater variability
    in rainfall and warmer weather due to climate change.
     
    Computers models cannot “predict” precipitation even in the hindcast historical runs. What difference does it make what most predict if all of them are useless?
     

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