Add up the portion of agricultural fuel use that is paid for with our taxes ($22 billion), direct Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat ($3 billion), treatment of food-related illnesses ($10 billion), agricultural chemical clean-up costs ($17 billion), collateral costs of pesticide use ($8 billion), and costs of nutrients lost to erosion ($20 billion).  At minimum that’s a national subsidy of at least $80 billion,  or about $725 per household per year. And that’s on top of our already sky-high grocery bill.

Large increases in biofuels production in the United States and Europe are the main reason behind the steep rise in global food prices, a top World Bank economist said in research published today.

World Bank economist, Don Mitchell, concluded that biofuels and related low grain inventories, speculative activity, and food export bans pushed prices up by 70 percent to 75 percent.

The remaining 25 percent to 30 percent was due to a weaker U.S. dollar, higher energy costs and related rises in fertilizer and transport costs, he wrote.

The research corresponds somewhat with the International Monetary Fund, which estimated in May that biofuels accounted for 70 percent of the increase in maize prices and 40 percent in soybean prices.

The United States is the largest producer of ethanol from maize and is expected to use about 81 million tons for ethanol in the 2007/08 crop year. Meanwhile, Canada, China and the European Union used roughly 5 million tons of maize, which was about 11 percent of the global maize crop.

The use of maize for ethanol in the United States has global implications because the U.S. produces about one-third of the world’s maize and two-thirds of global exports, and used 25 percent of its production for ethanol in 2007/08. 

Struggling with soaring food costs and cash-strapped customers, restaurants across the country are swapping expensive ingredients for cheaper fare and adding new dishes that won’t break their bottom line.

Call it a menu makeover: Steakhouses are adding buffalo meat alongside filet mignon, pizza joints are trying new cheese products and seafood spots are replacing pricier entrees with humbler dishes like catfish.

The changes come as record oil prices and surging global demand for staples like rice, fish, poultry and wheat have pushed wholesale food prices up almost 8 percent in the last year, the biggest hike in three decades, according to the National Restaurant Association. Read the rest of this entry »

With food prices rising and economic troubles dominating the U.S. presidential race, White House candidates are focusing attention on the issue of poverty.

Republican John McCain spent last week touring “forgotten places in America” to highlight his commitment to helping the poor.

Sen. Hillary Clinton promised earlier this month to create a “poverty czar” as president while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called last weekend for rich nations to increase their food aid dramatically.

There are an estimated 36.5 million poor people in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world. The Institute for Research on Poverty, citing census data from 2006, says that is 12.3 percent of the U.S. population. Read the rest of this entry »

Chew on this: Food costs

April 19, 2008

Most Americans take food for granted. Even the poorest fifth of households in the United States spend only 16 percent of their budget on food. In many other countries, it is less of a given. Nigerian families spend 73 percent of their budgets to eat, Vietnamese 65 percent, Indonesians half. They are in trouble.

Last year, the food import bill of developing countries rose by 25 percent as food prices rose to levels not seen in a generation. Corn doubled in price over the last two years. Wheat reached its highest price in 28 years.