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Food prices jet off

By ROXANNE STAPLETON-WHYMS Saturday, March 8 2008

click on pic to zoom in

FOOD PRICES continue to jet off, even as the country is engrossed in fierce debate about the plans to purchase an executive aircraft by state-owned Caribbean Airlines.

Supermarkets were yesterday informed that Par Excellence parboiled rice will now cost them 10 percent more. Grocers also revealed that this past week Unilever Caribbean Limited issued notices that the prices of Blue Band, Golden Ray and Cookeen margarines had gone up.

Tuna prices also increased last Monday and many pluck shops increased the price of their chicken to $10.50 per pound, moving from last month’s $9.50 price.

Managing director of JMH Enterprise Charles James, who distributes the Par Excellence brand of rice told Newsday yesterday that as distributors continue to fork out more for rice shipments, price hikes have become unavoidable. World market prices continue to skyrocket in light of chronic shortages, he said.

“We don’t even know if we are going to get rice next month as the global pool is shrinking. For instance, Thailand is no longer exporting rice, they don’t have enough to, so they are keeping their rice for themselves. This places heavy demand on other rice producers, ” James stressed.

At a leading supermarket in St Augustine yesterday, Par Excellence parboiled one, two, four and nine kilogramme packs were going for $8.79; $13.29; $25.09 and $73.49 respectively.

With a 10 percent increase it would mean that these prices will move from $8.79 to $9.67; $13.29 to $14.62; $25.09 to $27.60 and $73.49 to $80.84.

Former president of the Supermarkets Association Balliram Maharaj said while there’s a continuous barrage of price increases, even worse is the growing scarcity of food.

“If you think rising food prices is the problem, the real challenge is finding basic foods. I am not finding split peas,” said Maharaj.

He said over the last year split peas prices jumped a whopping 250 percent; lentils 273 percent; cheese 77 percent; pig feet 65 percent; cow heel 57 percent; dried pigeon peas 51 percent and red beans by 41 percent.

Calls placed to Unilever’s communications and sales departments yesterday went unanswered.

Some of the leading poultry producers complained last month about heavy grain price hikes. Higher grain prices they indicated means that they are losing, as they agreed to a pact with the Ministry of Consumer and Legal Affairs in November 2007 to keep the price of chicken between $5.25 and $5.50 per pound.

The Poultry Association has since forwarded “information that the ministry requested,” and is awaiting word, Newsday was told yesterday.

Just two months ago local consumers had to adjust to hefty increases in the prices of flour, eggs, cheese, butter and milk.

The inflation rate in January rose to ten percent and this was largely driven by high food prices.

US President, George W Bush on Wednesday admitted that increased ethanol production has driven up the cost of corn and other foods. Bush lamented that the push to alternative fuels was “beginning to affect the price of food and so we got to do something about it.”

But the bad news on food scarcity didn’t stop there.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN Rome-based agency, World Food Programme on Thursday said that the 40 percent rise in the cost of fuel and commodities such as grain, since mid-2007, raised the cost of food and transport, causing a $500 million shortfall in her agency’s 2008 budget, the Associated Press reported. After briefing the European Parliament, she stressed that global food reserves were at their lowest level in 30 years, with cover for emergency deliveries of 53 days, down from 169 days in 2007.

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