Food panic hits the First World

In the last six months, food riots in virtually every continent have made headlines, with angry protests reported in India, Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, and the Philippines. Now impacts are being felt in “first world” countries like Japan, where food prices have risen by an average of 15% in the last year. (Nation Media, Kenya, April 24) Several Asian countries, including India and Vietnam, have halted all rice exports. (China Daily, Spril 28) The “global rice panic” has also hit the Asian-American community in California, as the retail price for a 50-pound sack of Thai jasmine rice has doubled from roughly $20 to $40 in recent weeks. (McClatchy Newspapers, April 24) Panic-buying has exhausted stocks at supermarkets in the Bay Area and Sacramento. A Costco Wholesale store in San Francisco has limited rice purchases to two bags per customer. Wal-Mart Stores’ Sam’s Club has limited purchases of jasmine, basmati and long-grain white rice to four bags a visit in all US outlets. (Bloomberg, April 25)

The state’s rice growers insist the picture is rosy. The California Rice Commission says there is plenty of California-grown rice available at retail stores in whatever quantity consumers want to buy. (Central Valley Business Times, April 25) But they also admit the inflated prices are good news for the industry. “Prices are really strong so growers are happy about that,” said Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission in Sacramento. (California Farm Bureau Federation, April 16)

Although it failed to make world headlines, pasta protests in Italy late last year were an early harbinger of the crisis. Italians went on a one-day “pasta strike” in protest of the price spike in September. (Australian Broadcasting Corp., Sept. 14, 2007)

See our last posts on peak food crisis.