Grocery Prices, World Hunger to Skyrocket; A World With No Tomatoes?

tomatoes - grocery pricesWhile many Congresspeople continue to insist that climate change is pseudo-science, one of the leading experts on agricultural commodities says it's a "fact" and likely to "cause massive disruptions" in food supplies around the world, pushing prices much higher on the exchanges and in the grocery stores. Sunny Verghese, the chief executive of Olam, one of the world's biggest suppliers of rice and cotton, said that corn prices would likely hit a record price, causing inflation and hunger. But the worst news could hit Washington and the rest of the country where they'll really feel it: right in the BLT.

More on the tomatoes later. First, Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said prices of wheat would be higher, too, and as all these changes occur, "hoarding becomes widespread." Throwing another perspective into the fray was World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who said that food prices rose 15% between October and January; dire in the face of the poor's spending. Half of the poverty-stricken family's income goes to food, even in developed countries.Conditions destroying harvests include the "worst drought in at least half a century" in Russia, too much rain in Canada, and flooding in Australia, as well as dry conditions in Europe and political unrest beginning in Northern Africa and spreading throughout the Middle East. And then, there is the freeze in Mexico, Florida and Texas, where much of the produce for the U.S. is grown in the first few months of the year. Gary Karp, the EVP of a food market research firm, told Chicago Breaking Business that prices for tomatoes and cucumbers would double, and would in some cases not be available at all for the next 60 days.

BLT sandwiches might be downsized to BL, said Karp. "Operators are going to have to be very creative," he went on. "If they can get them, they'll probably slice them thinner." Many Wendy's restaurants are only offering tomato on burgers and chicken sandwiches by request. Subway is reducing its offerings of tomatoes and bell peppers. Sweet Tomatoes in some locations will not have tomatoes on its salad bar.

So-called "locavores" and others who, for practical or food-political reasons, have chosen to eat and preserve produce in season, won't notice much difference in their grocery bills this month. Staying away from processed food and factory meat? You, too, will avoid the medium-term effects of the predicted terrible harvests, perhaps suffering a little increase in the cost of flour and corn. Of course, most of the commodity crops exist in a separate plane than those sold to "foodies" at farmer's markets, grocery co-ops and buying clubs; the economies of scale when you're talking global agriculture are looking, more and more, like very bad economies indeed.

Paradoxically, the more the global economy depends on intensive, high-yield monoculture crops, the worse the poor -- the supposed recipient of the benefits of this model -- are suffering, and the frugal, who plant their gardens and store pumpkins and can tomatoes when they're 69 cents a pound? They're looking smarter than ever.
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