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World food prices more stable, supply up

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 1:45 p.m. MST

In this Tuesday, May 15, 2012, file photo, an Indian vendor arranges vegetables at his stall in Gauhati, India.

Anupam Nath, Associated Press

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While a slight increase in world food prices occurred in October, the real news was a summer of plenty — after two years in a row in which short supplies and high prices had helped spark unrest in the developing world.

"World food prices increased 1.3 percent in October, led mainly by a surge in sugar prices, but food commodity markets overall have become less volatile due to improving production and a recovery in global cereal inventories," The Wall Street Journal reported, based on a statement by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to Reuters, the slight bump in food prices last month resulted from harvest delays in Brazil and an increase in sugar prices.

"The revised index still shows a record peak was hit in February 2011, when high food prices helped drive the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa," Reuters reported. "In the summer of 2012 the index began surging to levels close to another peak seen in 2008, when several poor countries experienced riots, some of them deadly."

In addition to revolutions and deadly riots in the developing world, higher food prices contributed to political upheaval and policy change in richer countries such as Australia, where the new government has pledged to roll back carbon emissions policies in an effort to lower energy and food costs.

But industry is warning that Australia's price relief may not be as easy as it sounds.

"Food and grocery prices may not fall when the carbon tax is repealed, and struggling food manufacturers could be forced to continue to pay the tax in their power bills for 18 months after compensation schemes offered by the former Labor government had been abolished," the Guardian reported.

"The warning, from the Australian Food and Grocery Council, comes after cautions from electricity generators and retailers that they can’t guarantee domestic power bills will fall by Tony Abbott’s promised 9 percent and from the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia that other prices might not fall immediately, or by as much as the public has been led to expect."

Food prices are also playing into the regulation of genetically modified foods, with the industry asserting in California and Washington State that proposed labeling requirements would sharply increase food costs.

"As in California, the effect on food prices is emerging as a point of contention," Mother Jones reported. "Opponents of labeling, pointing to a 2012 study prepared during the California fight by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, say that the new rules would cost consumers $350 to $400 annually per household."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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