Saturday, January 19, 2008

Australian Scientists Warn Global Food Shortages More Vital Battle Than Fighting Global Warming

How's your food stockpiling going? Think of it as an investment. $500 worth of 'long-life' food will probably be worth about $1000 this time next year :
A worsening global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned.

The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said dairy products, grain and poultry had seen the strongest price rises in recent months.

Beef and lamb were forecast to follow, with nationwide livestock shortages taking the average price for a cow from $700 a head 12 months ago to $1400 a head going into autumn.

Key speaker at the national science briefing Professor Julian Cribb said the security of our food supply is "the global scientific challenge of our time".

The problem was more urgent even than climate change, said Professor Cribb, from the University of Technology in Sydney, because it will get us first . . . through famine and war.

"By 2050 we will have to feed the equivalent of 13 billion people at today's levels of nutrition," he said.

"This situation brings with it the very real possibility of regional and global instability. Investment in global food stability is now defence spending and requires proportionate priority."

Global grain stocks have fallen to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, while Australia's sheep flock is at its lowest since the mid-1920s, with about 86 million.

The days of cheap food now look to be well and truly over. More from Mr Keogh :

Australian consumers are facing another sharp rise in meat, dairy and bread prices, stretching budgets already under pressure from rising mortgages, rents and petrol.

According to the Australian Farm Institute, meat prices could surge by 15 per cent or more in the next few months.

Institute executive director Mick Keogh said the rain now bringing relief from the drought would result in a shortage of livestock available for meat production.

"Typically what happens going in to a drought is that farmers sell off any stock they can to avoid having to feed those stock through the drought," Mr Keogh said.

"Then at the end of the drought, a lot of farmers go into the re-stocking phase."

Mr Keogh said the increased competition to buy livestock for re-stocking had already seen big increases in prices at saleyards in NSW, and the same could be expected in Queensland soon.

He said that would quickly flow through to supermarket meat prices.

"I think most people would suggest a 10 or 15 per cent increase wouldn't be surprising at all. In fact, you would think it would be likely to be more than that over the next couple of months," he said.

Mr Keogh also predicted consumers would be paying more this year for dairy products and bread, due to increasing costs.

Prices had already risen about 30 per cent over the past six to eight months.

The price of wheat reached its highest-ever level on international commodity markets in August and has jumped about 70 per cent in 18 months, with world stocks at a 26-year low.

Bread, milk, beef : three of the hardest food sources to grow in your own backyard. Unless your backyard is a farm.

City dwellers are really going to miss the loss of all those urban market gardens and small dairies.