POSTED: 23 APRIL 2008 - 8:15am HST

There is a run on rice and wheat!

image above: a 1930's food line

[Editor's Note: Food & Fuel! Food & Fuel! Food & Fuel! Okay, that's the mantra. Those two are the "non-core" infalationary items that are rising to become a priority around the world. The scramble for energy is fueling the scamble for food. The more corn for ethanol we grow, the higher the price for gas and food. That sounds like a death spiral. To break it we need to separate the way we grow food from our need for fuel. The anxiety we witness at Costco for hundred-pound bags of rice is just one tiny aspect of a tsunami coming. Grow food now!]

Sam's Club, Costco limit rice purchases
on 23 April 2008 at ABC News

Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Sam's Club warehouse division said on Wednesday it is limiting sales of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice "due to recent supply and demand trends."

The news came as rice prices surged, with U.S. rice futures hitting an all-time high Wednesday on worries about supply shortages.

On Tuesday, Costco Wholesale Corp, the largest U.S. warehouse club operator, said it has seen increased demand for items like rice and flour as customers, worried about global food shortages and rising prices, stock up.

Sam's Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, is limiting sales of rice to four bags per customer per visit, and is working with suppliers to ensure the products remain in stock.

Warehouse clubs cater to individual shoppers as well as small businesses and restaurant owners looking to buy cheaper, bulk-sized goods.

With prices for basic food items surging, customers have been going to the clubs to try to save money on bulk sizes of everything from pasta to cooking oil and rice.

Sam's Club said is not limiting sales of flour or cooking oil at this time. Costco said some of its stores have put limits on sales of items such as rice and flour, but it was trying to modify those restrictions to meet customer demand.
Costco Chief Executive James Sinegal told Reuters that he believed the recent surge in demand was being driven by media reports about rising global demand and shortages of basic food items in some countries.

Food costs have soared worldwide, spurred by increased demand in emerging markets like China and India; competition with biofuels; high oil prices and market speculation.

The situation has sparked food riots in several African countries, Indonesia, and Haiti. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that higher food prices could hurt global growth and security.

Rice prices have risen 68 percent since the start of 2008.

Trade bans on rice have been put in place by India, the world's second largest exporter in 2007, and Vietnam, the third biggest, in hopes of cooling domestic prices. Rice is a staple in most of Asia.

On Tuesday, Tim Johnson, president-CEO of California Rice Commission, which represents growers and millers of rice in the state, said: "Bottom line, there is no rice shortage in the United States. We have supplies."


Wheat shortage pushing prices to record highs
by Jason Subik on 29 February 2008 in The Schenectady Daily Gazette

In Schenectday, New York, pizza makers, grocers, consumers all feeling effects.
It used to be that flour was the reliably cheap part of making a pizza.

“I’ve owned the business here for about 15 years and flour has always ranged around $8 to $10 for a 50-pound bag of flour. It’s getting up close to $30 now. It’s gone up about 200 percent,” said Jim Smith, owner of High Bridge Pizzeria in Rotterdam.

Record high wheat prices are squeezing the profit margins of flour wholesalers and retailers in the Capital Region, as well as the wallets of consumers.

Spring wheat for March delivery fell $1.75 Thursday to close at $18.25 a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. It traded as high as $25 a bushel this week. Wheat historically trades at $3 to $7 a bushel.

George Walsh, the owner of grocery wholesale company By George in Ballston Lake, said his company sells about 2,000 50-pound bags of flour per week.
“[The price] really escalated over the last eight weeks. It’s still going up. They’re talking about $50 bags of flour. I had the sales manager for General Mills call me up and [tell me] flour’s probably going to hit $35 your cost. Now it’s costing us $28.50, which is ridiculous. Last month it was $15.80,” Walsh said. “It’s terrible.

There is a big shortage of wheat. It’s almost impossible for these guys making a pizza.”

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture announced Feb. 8 that the U.S. wheat stockpile was the lowest in 50 years, 272 million bushels.

Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub said she has not heard rumors of a wheat shortage, but the wheat price spikes have affected pricing at every supermarket and grocery store.

“This is going to affect any and all products that contain wheat. So certainly fresh bakery and packaged bakery and many, many, many packaged products across the grocery shelves will be affected in months to come,” she said.
In New York state, 100,000 acres of winter wheat was planted this past fall, down 5,000 acres from 2006, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service New York Field Office.

For pizza makers, the flour price spike is a double whammy, as cheese prices have also been rising during the past year, in part because of lower-than-normal cheese production and higher demand.

“You get probably 200 to 300 pizzas out of a bag of flour, compared to cheese when it doubled in price. You don’t get that many pizzas out of a pound of cheese,” Smith said. “Everything has gone up. Delivery trucks, look at gas prices. The whole industry has gone crazy. We really don’t have much of a profit margin. Our prices are too low as it is. You tell people that and they don’t want to hear it.”
Some big pizza chains, such as Pizza Hut and Papa John’s International Inc., last year raised the price of their cheese-only pizzas to the same amount as one-topping pizzas at company-owned stores.

Chris Sternberg, spokesman for Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s, said in an e-mail Thursday that the chain last fall locked in the purchase of part of the wheat supply needed for 2008. “Through this strategy, which we have continued in 2008, our restaurants are somewhat insulated from the recent run-up in the cost of wheat during the first half of the year.” He said the company is controlling inventory and working with suppliers to control costs.

The spike in cheese costs has been partially attributed to the run-up in dairy cattle corn feed prices caused by increased federal subsidy of the U.S. ethanol industry. Ethanol is alcohol-fuel, which in the United States is mostly made from corn. Increased corn planting means decreased wheat planting.

“The government’s got all of the farmers growing corn because of this [ethanol] stuff. You save a nickel a gallon, but you kill the wheat production,” Walsh said.
In 2007, New York farmers harvested 69.9 million tons of corn from 1.1 million acres of land, up nearly 8 million tons from 2006, when only about 1 million acres was put into corn production, according to the USDA.

Global food shortage linked to biofuel use
on 22 April 2008 (Earth Day) in

Jean Ziegler, Switzerland, the United Nations’ independent expert on the right to food, was right to call for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production in October 2007.

Ziegler called their motives legitimate, but said that ”the effect of transforming hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tons of maize, of wheat, of beans, of palm oil, into agricultural fuel is absolutely catastrophic for the hungry people.”

The world price of wheat doubled in one year and the price of corn quadrupled, leaving poor countries, especially in Africa, unable to pay for the imported food needed to feed their people, he said. And poor people in those countries are unable to pay the soaring prices for the food that does come in, he added.
”So it’s a crime against humanity” to devote agricultural land to biofuel production, Ziegler said at a news conference. ”What has to be stopped is … the growing catastrophe of the massacre (by) hunger in the world,” he said.

As an example, he said, it takes 510 pounds of corn to produce 13 gallons of ethanol. That much corn could feed a child in Zambia or Mexico for a year, he said.

Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the Bush administration didn’t consider biofuel development a threat to the poor.
”It’s clear we have a commitment to the development of biofuels,” Bush said at that time. ”It’s also clear that we are committed to combatting poverty and supporting economic development around the world as the leading contributor of overseas development assistance in the world.”

Read the full story here”. Still, it would be wrong to blame the Bush administration who was under tremendous pressure to do something to save planet earth from global warming after not signing the Kyoto Protocol. The international pressure for so-called “carbon-neutral” alternatives to burning fossil fuels was immense.

Biofuel programs and commodity speculation affecting staple food worldwide
A few months later, a worldwide food shortage became evident when the Asian newspaper “The Straight Times” reported about a looming shortage of rice worldwide last February (see previous post). At that time, a link to biofuel did not seem to be the issue as yet, but rather global warming with its droughts and government interventions were named as possible culprits.

Another two months later, we see the full picture. The prestigeous subsidized biofuel programs from wheat, corn and soy beans in the U.S., Brazil and the European Union have proved to substantially contribute to the soaring food prices worldwide. The following article describes best the mechanism of the narrow, free part, of the world’s staple food market that became a commodity for speculation of governments, even to traders in Thailand and the Philippines.

Many blamed the food crisis more on global warming (namely the drought in Australia and plant deceases in Vietnam) and on market failures at first. Whatever the case, burning an increasing amount of wheat and corn was the final straw in an already existing worldwide food inflation with its tidal waves reaching staple food rice in Asia after corn, wheat and soi beans. Read this excellent arcticle by the economist here. Cnn reported today about the same.

Today is Earth Day. The good earth is for the people before anything else.

see also:
Island Breath: Ethanol a Disaster 1/18/07