UN warns record food prices put millions at risk

ROME — The United Nations warned Friday millions of people are at risk after global food prices hit their highest level ever, as clashes over rising prices erupted in Algeria this week.

Surging prices for cooking oil, cereal and sugar in particular, “will affect millions of people,” Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, told AFP.

The FAO’s food price index, an average of monthly price changes for meat, dairy, cereals, oil and sugar, hit 214.7 points in December — the highest level since the index began in 1990.

The December level tops the peak of 213.5 in June 2008.

Price highs at the time provoked a food crisis and riots in a number of African countries, as well as in Haiti and the Philippines, and aid agencies fear the latest price rises could spark further violence.

In Algeria this week, demonstrators and security forces clashed in the capital and other towns in protests against a spike in the costs of basic food items by 20 to 30 percent this month.

The global price index for sugar in December rose to a record high of 398.4, up from 373.4 in November. The price of cereals also rose over the same period to 237.6 points, the highest level since August 2008.

“Rising prices are re-emerging as a threat to global growth and social stability,” Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, wrote in a commentary for the Financial Times on Wednesday.

Zoellick also stressed the importance of improving “long-range weather forecasting and monitoring, especially in Africa.”

The FAO’s November Food Outlook report blamed rising food prices on unexpected shortfalls due to bad weather, aggravated by policy responses from some exporting countries, which had seen a knock-on effect on the market.

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