They don't have enough to eat. Five people are dead in Port Au Prince, Haiti after a week of food riots. Unions in Burkina Faso have called a general strike to protest the high cost of grain. Food riots have rocked Egypt, Cameroon, Indonesia, Ethiopia and other nations. In Manila, police with M-16s have supervised the sale and distribution of subsidized grain. Hoarders have been threatened with life imprisonment. In Thailand and Pakistan, troops are guarding fields and warehouses. In Egypt, the army has been called out to bake bread. Even in the United States, a run on rice has caused big-box retailers Sam's Club and Costco to limit the amount of rice consumers can purchase per visit (though the cap is extremely generous -- each customer can buy four 20 pound bags of rice per day at Costco).
The inflation in food prices worldwide -- prices have soared 83 percent in the past three years, according to the World Bank -- has a number of causes. Certainly increased demand from India and China -- nations that until quite recently maintained hundreds of millions of people at subsistence levels -- is part of the explanation. The Chinese and Indians are eating better, but their enhanced diets are putting pressure on supply. And our good friends at OPEC can take a bow. The oil sheikhs and that great tribune of the poor, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, are doing their parts to plunge millions of poor people around the globe into starvation by artificially boosting the price of oil (which is required to grow food and transport it).
We in the U.S. and the European Union are not blameless either. Not by a long shot. In our search for cleaner energy we jumped aboard the "biofuels" bandwagon. This debacle should be an object lesson. Fighting global warming (if there is global warming) is a tricky business and can only be undertaken after careful review of the costs and benefits.
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