The Real Reasons Why Your Weekly Shop Is So Expensive; RUTHLESS INVESTORS.. AUSSIE FLOODS.. CHINA'S NEW LOVE FOR CHEESE AND BEEF

The Mirror (London, England), February 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Real Reasons Why Your Weekly Shop Is So Expensive; RUTHLESS INVESTORS.. AUSSIE FLOODS.. CHINA'S NEW LOVE FOR CHEESE AND BEEF


Byline: RUKI SAYID

WE'VE all been shocked by the rocketing price of food every time we hand over our cash at the supermarket checkout.

Staples such as bread, coffee, butter, and pasta have soared in price - as Ireland lives up to its reputation of having the most expensive food and drink in Europe.

The UN warns prices will go up 40% in the next decade. And it is not just hitting Irish shoppers - expensive food causes riots around the world, and even has the potential to topple governments.

While supermarkets and food producers usually blame freak weather conditions, political turmoil and failed harvests, there is another cause - City traders and banks cashing in on food shortages.

As the credit crunch was followed by plunging property markets and share prices, investors turned to food to make a quick buck.

And you can see the result every time you do the weekly shop.

Commodities traders have sent prices of everyday foodstuffs like rice, pasta, cereal, coffee, wheat, corn and cocoa soaring.

Farmers have always "hedged" to protect themselves against fluctuating prices. It means agreeing to sell a crop to a trader in advance for a fixed price, allowing the farmer to guarantee his income for the following year.

If prices go up in the meantime, the trader does well out of the deal, if they fall, then the farmer has got a better price than if he had waited.

The system worked well, until banks and investors argued for strict regulations to be lifted.

By the mid-90s, millions of tonnes of produce were being bought and sold by traders who had never so much as picked a coffee bean.

When the financial crisis in 2008 made traditional investments risky, investors poured billions of dollars into food speculation, pushing prices higher.

The numbers involved are truly staggering.

It is estimated that 80% of trading in some foods is now purely speculative.

Last July Anthony "Choc Finger" Ward snapped up 240,100 tonnes of cocoa beans in a EUR778million deal.

His Armajaro commodities fund took control of 7% of the world's annual production in a daring bet that cocoa prices would continue to soar.

The deal helped push chocolate prices to their highest level for 33 years, and at the same time speculators forced the price of coffee up by 20% in just three days.

While we cannot blame traders for every extra penny on your grocery bill, experts say that their greed is a growing problem.

Even the boss of Unilever has blamed cavalier traders for higher grocery bills.

Paul Polman, whose company owns household names from Knorr to PG tips, says: "Food inflation has attracted speculators for short-term profit at the expense of people living a dignified life. …

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