Global Outcry Over Rising Food Prices
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
A silent tsunami - the head of the World Food Programme has been using that metaphor to describe rising food prices around the globe. Josette Sheeran said the cost of food is creating, and I quote, "A new face of hunger - millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago, but now are." This crisis has gotten intense international attention recently, but NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says the problem has been brewing for a while.
DANIEL SCHORR: Call it the law of unintended consequences. In pursuit of energy independence, the United States is diverting about a quarter of the national corn crop to produce ethanol fuel. The use of ethanol has offset a small amount of oil consumption, but it has also contributed to sharp increases in food prices that have led to hunger demonstrations, and in some cases, riots, from Haiti to Egypt. Even in affluent America, higher food prices reflect the higher cost of fuel for the trucks that deliver supplies to the supermarkets. For the middle-class American, that may mean more careful shopping.
For the billion or so people around the world who live on the equivalent of a dollar a day, it could mean stark hunger, a price-induced famine. United States and international food aid organizations have been slow to react to the crisis that has kept the shelves empty of milk even in oil-rich Venezuela. World Bank President Robert Zoellick has urged swift action, saying that surging food prices could push a hundred million low-income people into desperate poverty. He says that 33 countries are in danger of social upheaval. The United States and Europe are providing several hundred million dollars in assistance. But long term, food prices are not likely to come down as long as they suffer from the double whammy of high fuel costs and diversion of grain to make ethanol. United Nations and World Bank officials talk of a new deal for food aid. But Rajat Nag, a top official at the Asian Development Bank, may have gotten it right when he said, the era of cheap food is over.
This is Daniel Schorr.
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