Have you noticed the phrase, "food inflation" in news reports lately? It refers to a worldwide phenomenon of sharply increasing food prices, a trend that will mean less food for many and higher costs for all in 2008.
What's behind these developments?
The UN's World Food Program reports that the number of chronically hungry has been rising by about four million-per-year for the past decade or more. By 2003, the figure had risen to just under 850 million, including nine million in industrialized countries.
We all know that war, violence (like the post-election violence in Kenya) and natural disasters (like the tsunami at the end of 1996) cause severe food shortages. But did you know that "emergencies account for less than eight percent of hunger's victims"? (What Is Hunger?, wfp.org).
Emanuel Balarie of the Commodity NewsCenter online tells consumers that the groceries they bought a year ago for $400 dollars costs them close to $500 this year. Illustrating the jump in several basic commodities between September 2006 and September 2007, Balarie reports: Corn, up 44 percent; soybeans, up 69 percent; wheat, up 103 percent; milk, up 64 percent; coffee, up 10 percent; and cocoa, up 28 percent ("Food Inflation: What's The Story?", Jan. 7, 2008).
That's only part of the reason these items cost more when turned into groceries. It also costs more to grow and to transport them through every stage of production and marketing, due to higher prices for energy and fertilizer (made from petroleum).
So as we lament the rising cost of a gallon of gasoline for our vehicles, we should also be aware that the same higher oil prices are impacting the cost of the food that we eat.
Another reason for soaring prices is the greatly expanded demand from industrializing countries, such as Brazil, China, India, Russia and Thailand. Prosperity is literally taking food out of the mouths of some in order to put meat into the mouths of others! As people in these nations are increasingly able to purchase meat, the worldwide demand for livestock increases correspondingly, and that is causing a seismic shift of the world's grain resources into livestock feed.
In the United States, the EU, Canada and Australia, technology, research and development and money can increase yields somewhat. And their citizens can bear a slightly increased grocery bill.
But the story is different in the developing world.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reported at the end of 2007 that their food price index rose by more than 40 percent for the year, compared with 9 percent for 2006. World reserves of cereal grains are severely depleted. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year to the lowest level since 1980. Wheat stores would meet the world's current consumption level for only 12 weeks; corn stores would last only eight weeks.
Wheat prices rose 52 percent in 2007, and U.S. wheat futures recently reached $10.00 a bushel. Elizabeth Rosenthal of The International Herald Tribune explains that this is "the agricultural equivalent of $100.00 a barrel" of oil (World Food Stocks Dwindling Rapidly, UN Warns, Dec. 17, 2007).
Whatever the cause, increased temperatures have caused lower crop yields in several crucial areas, further contributing to diminished stores and higher prices.
And pressure on industrialized nations to generate biofuels is snatching grain resources from poor nations that depend upon the grains for food. Biofuels in the U.S. and the EU are currently made principally from corn and soybeans.
By the end of 2007 it cost twice as much as the year before to ship grain to needy countries. Whether those nations pay to import the grain or humanitarian agencies are shipping it to them, the impact of energy prices is enormous.
So the 2008 dinner plate has less and costs more for multiple reasons. Rising oil prices mean higher production and shipping costs. Biofuel production consumes feedstock grain and takes food out of the mouths of people. So does increased demand for meat in emerging economies. Weather swings have also been reducing crops.
The Bible contains some startling prophecies about food shortages, food inflation and famine just before Jesus Christ returns. For example, it provides this enigmatic picture: "'A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!'" (Revelation 6:6 Revelation 6:6And I heard a voice in the middle of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see you hurt not the oil and the wine.
American King James Version×, New International Version). Jesus also tells us that shortly before He returns mankind will be experiencing "famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7 Matthew 24:7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×).
The global impact of such catastrophes is described in Revelation 6. For an in-depth explanation of this sobering end-time prophecy, simply download or request our free, enlightening publication: The Horsemen of Revelation.