Placeholder Banner

Tell the Real Story

April 4, 2008
A growing chorus of media reports have commented on recent dramatic rises in food prices across the world:

Food Prices Rising Across the World --
Rising Grain Prices Panic Developing World -- Washington Post
United Nations Says Millions At Risk From Soaring Food Prices -- Bloomberg

Nearly all of these articles identify biofuels production as the leading cause. But a cursory glance at grain production statistics reveals that biofuels – certainly in the U.S., which has received most of the blame – has not resulted in any decrease in grain supply -- see: Surplus corn for 2007 was around 1.3 billion bushels. The total estimated supply for 2008 is even higher, on fewer acres. As the Corn Growers say, "World hunger has many causes. Lack of corn is not one of them."

So why the rise in food prices?

The Washington Post headline gets it exactly right: PANIC – a sudden fear which dominates or replaces thinking and often affects groups of people or animals.

When you take the time to look at the actual data on this issue – rather than stating anecdotal speculation as fact, as many of these articles have done – it’s clear that, as the AP story correctly points out, the fundamental driving forces of recent rising food prices are: “petroleum prices, which increase the cost of everything from fertilizers to transport to food processing[, r]ising demand for meat and dairy in rapidly developing countries such as China and India,” and to some extent, the shift of grain production into biofuels.

But none of these factors – and certainly not biofuels production alone – accounts for the dramatic spikes in rice and other grain prices in the past couple of months. This is without question a case of market panic. And unsupported finger pointing, such as is found in these and many other recent articles only helps to fuel the panic.

As a former journalist myself, this kind of lazy and careless reporting – speculative commentary masquerading as fact – makes my blood boil. It’s about time more thoughtful, responsible journalists began telling the real story.