The record drought gripping half the US will help push food prices up by 3 per cent to 4 per cent next year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
"In 2013 as a result of this drought we are looking at above-normal food price inflation. ... Consumers are certainly going to feel it," USDA economist Richard Volpe said on Wednesday.
"Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability– than most people realize." -- Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute
The drought has sent corn, soybean and other commodity prices soaring in recent weeks as fields dry out and crops wither across much of the country's midsection.
Meteorologists are predicting that conditions behind the drought will continue, putting crops at risk and raising food prices as well as the specter of a food crisis, according to Al Jazeera.
"This drought was a surprise for everybody," Volpe said. "The USDA was forecasting a record year for the corn crop until this drought materialized. Now we're not going to get that."
But food policy experts contend that despite unexpected high temperatures and poor rainfall this year, food crises are predictable events and have as much to do with man-made climate change and US agricultural policy as they do with isolated droughts.
"The drought isn't merely bad because the crops are parched. Climate change has nudged the temperature more than a degree higher than the previous record-breaking US drought in the 1950s," says author, economist and food policy expert Raj Patel.
"We don't yet know what the final reckoning will be for food prices," Patel said. "The price is driven by a demand for animal feed, high-fructose corn syrup, and an incredibly stupid US biofuels policy that mandates the transformation of food into ethanol. With the US producing over half of world corn exports, and with the price of those exports set by domestic uses of corn, the US drought will have a profound impact on [global food ]prices."
Lester R. Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, writing for The Guardian, noted that world stocks of grain will fall further near the end of this year, worsening an already precarious global food situation.
"The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening," he said.
"Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability– than most people realize."
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