Soaring food prices around the world are the result of a ‘broken’ system, experts say Surroundings

The rise in food prices around the world is the result of a “broken” food system that is failing the poor and concentrating power and profits in the hands of a few, food experts have said.

Rising food prices are causing widespread suffering in developing countries, and even in the rich world, the combination of high food and fuel prices threatens millions of people in need.

Food prices have risen by about 20% this year and about 345 million people are acutely food insecure, compared to 135 million before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oxfam’s Alex Maitland told the Guardian the current crisis is “the latest in a long line of failures in the global food system”, which has become even more vulnerable in recent times due to extreme weather conditions and the impact of the climate crisis, economic upheaval and the pandemic.

He said: “The war in Ukraine has caused massive price volatility and food supply disruptions around the world, but this is just the latest blow to an already broken global food system. Global food chains are dominated by a small number of multinational corporations. It is not surprising that these companies can generate such massive profits.”

The Guardian revealed this week that ABCD companies (Archer-Daniels-Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus) – which control 70-90% of the world grain trade – have hit a record bonanza as food prices subsequently plummeted skyrocketed in the Ukraine war. It appears that some have increased their profit margins as well, putting further pressure on consumers.

Activists are concerned that seeds and agricultural chemicals are similarly controlled by a handful of companies, with just three multinationals — Bayer-Monsanto, Dupont-Dow and Chem-China Syngenta — controlling 60% of the trade. Consolidation has also taken place among retailers, with just 10 food companies accounting for half of all food sales in the EU.

Consumers aren’t the only victims: farmers are also struggling for their livelihoods when big companies abuse their supremacy. Maitland said: “The people who produce and buy food are suffering from a system that puts shareholder profits ahead of the people. Half of the world’s undernourished are small farmers and their families. The poorest spend far more of their income on food than the richest.”

Vicki Hird, head of sustainable agriculture at Sustain, a coalition of civil society groups in the UK, said: “Farmers have no control over price setting and are getting poorer for it. It is estimated that 25% of farm households [in the UK] live below the poverty line.”

She added: “The current food crisis is not new, it has only been accelerated by the invasion of Ukraine, and unless governments recognize this and act to address the real causes – corporate profits at the expense of people’s incomes Farmers, workers’ wages and consumers and the environment – ​​we will tumble from this crisis to the next.”

She called for government action to stop the worst abuses and restore balance to the food system. “Tight supply chain regulation and curbing financial speculation on food crops is key to ensuring everyone has enough food now and in the future.”

Tim Lang, professor emeritus of food policy at the City, University of London, said both developed and developing countries are feeling the effects of years of increasing distortions in food markets. “We don’t pay enough attention to food – there’s a lot of attention paid to energy markets, but not so much to food,” he said.

The concentration of power in the hands of a few secretive companies resulted in a less transparent market, making it difficult to assess if and where profits or dangerous speculation were taking place. But this is just one aspect of a food system that isn’t working in the interests of consumers or farmers, he said.

“We need to rethink the food system. People cannot afford a healthy diet and this is a very serious problem. A lot of people make a lot of money from food, but food producers get about 8% of the £250 billion we spend on food every year,” he said.

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