Federal Reserve may Want Inflation

We are now importing inflation. This does not only apply to the cost of commodities, such as oil, but also to consumer goods imported from Asia. This is a newer trend as, in our analysis, Asia had been exporting deflation until the summer of 2006; since then, we have seen increased pricing power by Asian exporters.

Inflation is not just a U.S. phenomenon; as Asian economies are far more dependent on agricultural and industrial commodities, rising inflation may become a serious concern in the region. The stronger and more prudent Asian central banks may realize that allowing their currencies to float higher versus the U.S. dollar may be the most effective way to combat inflationary pressures.

Read moreFederal Reserve may Want Inflation

Iran dumps U.S. dollars in oil transactions

TEHRAN – Iran had totally removed U.S. dollars in the country’s oil transactions, an Oil Ministry official said on Wednesday.

“The dollar has completely been removed from our oil trade….Crude oil customers have agreed with us to use other currencies (in the trade),” Oil Ministry official Hojjatollah Ghanimifard was quoted as saying by the state television.

“We make our transactions with euros in Europe, but yen in Asia,” he added.

Due to the tensions with Washington in the past years over the nuclear disputes and the latest depreciation of dollars, Iran has vowed to decrease the greenback in its foreign trade. Iran central bank also has reduced dollars in the country’s foreign reserves. In last November’s summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Saudi Arabia, Iran proposed that it was necessary to replace the U.S. dollar with other major hard currencies in oil trading.

(In the past such actions were enough for the U.S. to start a war. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreIran dumps U.S. dollars in oil transactions

FDA report shows problems at Merck vaccine plant

Federal inspectors documented unwanted “fibers” on the stoppers of vaccine vials at Merck & Co. Inc.’s vast vaccine plant in Montgomery County.

They also found instances of contaminated children’s vaccines and complaints that were not always investigated at the West Point plant.

Inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spent 30 days at the plant between November and January and cited 49 areas of concern, including a failure to follow good manufacturing practices.

The findings are detailed in an unpublished 21-page FDA report obtained by The Inquirer under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Independent experts who reviewed the report say it documents serious concerns in one of the country’s premier vaccine plants. They suggested the problems could be a symptom of Merck’s cost cutting in the face of rapid growth of its vaccine business.

Read moreFDA report shows problems at Merck vaccine plant

Rockefellers urge action on climate change

One of America’s most powerful families will call tomorrow for a sweeping shake-up at the top of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company.

A group of descendants of John D. Rockefeller, who founded Exxon’s predecessor Standard Oil in 1870, will begin a campaign to split the role of chief executive and chairman of the board at the oil and gas group, a role held by Rex Tillerson.

Last night the family group issued a statement saying that the company’s leadership was “failing to address the future of energy and related industry hurdles”.
It said that representatives would make an announcement in New York to explain “that a majority of the family is now so concerned about the direction of ExxonMobil Corporation that it is urging a major change”.

Exxon, which earned $40 billion (£20 billion) last year, when Mr Tillerson was paid $21.7 million, was the slowest of the big oil majors to acknowledge climate change. The family is calling for an independent chairman and a bigger leadership role for the directors. The campaign comes as big oil companies face mounting pressure to deal with public concern over global warming.

Read moreRockefellers urge action on climate change

U.S. risks stagflation, says BIS chief

BASEL, Switzerland, April 29 (Reuters) – Stagflation is an increasingly plausible prospect in the United States and weak economic growth could last well into 2009, if not longer, the head of the Bank for International Settlements says.

That does not herald a rerun of the economic stagnation and rampant inflation that ran riot during the 1970s when oil prices last soared to unprecedented levels, Malcolm Knight, BIS general manager, said in an interview.

But it does cast some doubt on the White House’s thesis that the economy will rebound in the second half of 2008 in response to the tens of billions of dollars of tax rebates the government will be delivering to U.S. households in the coming weeks.

“I see a certain amount of scope for stagflation in a number of economies and that usually tends to result in subpar economic growth performance for an extended period of time, which could go well into 2009 or even longer,” said Knight, a Canadian who worked for more than 20 years at the International Monetary Fund.

“I think the U.S. economy is likely to experience weakness this year and in much of 2009,” said Knight, speaking to Reuters at BIS headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

“Stagflation is a definite risk.”

Read moreU.S. risks stagflation, says BIS chief

Washington to keep supplying arms to Taiwan

Washington will continue to back Taiwan militarily while it pushes for peace talks with China, the de facto US envoy here assured incoming president Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said the United States would continue to supply weapons to Taipei.

“We also expect our traditional close security cooperation to continue, as we are convinced American support for Taiwan’s defence gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbour without fear of pressure or coercion,” he said in an address to the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) here.

Taiwan has been governed separately since the end of a 1949 civil war, but Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence, and has targeted it with more than 1,000 ballistic missiles.

Washington has been the island’s leading arms supplier, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

But Taipei-Washington ties were frustrated by cross-strait tensions under the outgoing pro-independence government and Ma, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, has vowed to improve relations.

Young also hailed the unprecedented contacts between the island and China earlier this month.

“We applaud both sides of the Strait for facilitating vice president-elect Vincent Siew’s recent participation in the Boao Forum, during which he held a highly symbolic meeting with People’s Republic of China President Hu Jintao,” Young said.

Tuesday April 29, 2008

Source: AFP

Bank bail-outs to be kept secret

The Bank of England has imposed a permanent news blackout on its £50bn-plus plan to ease the credit crunch.

Ferocious and unprecedented secrecy means taxpayers will never know the names of the banks that have been supported through the special liquidity scheme, which was unveiled by Bank Governor Mervyn King last week.

Requests under the Freedom of Information Act are to be denied. Details will be kept secret even after 30 years – the period after which all but the most sensitive state documents are released.

Any Bank of England employee leaking the names of institutions involved will face court action for breach of contract.

Even a figure for the overall amount advanced will not be published until October. Meanwhile the Bank is expected to issue at least £50bn of Treasury bills to banks in exchange for their mortgages – entirely in secret.

Read moreBank bail-outs to be kept secret

Drone attacks hit high in Iraq

WASHINGTON — U.S. commanders in Iraq have ordered an unprecedented number of airstrikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents in urban combat and to limit their ability to launch rockets at American forces, military records show.

The 11 attacks by Predators — nearly double the previous high for one month — were conducted as the Pentagon has intensified efforts to increase the use of drones, which play an increasingly vital role for gathering intelligence and launching attacks in Iraq. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates prodded the Air Force to do more to rush drones to the war zone.


An AGM-114 Hellfire missile is unloaded from an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle after a mission in May at Balad Air Base, Iraq in this undated image.

The increase in Predator attacks coincided with a spike in fighting in Baghdad’s slum of Sadr City and in the city of Basra, where the Iraqi government mounted an offensive to root out militias there.

Commanders are expected to rely more on unmanned systems as 30,000 U.S. troops sent last year are withdrawn. The military has dozens of Predators in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all it operates 5,000 drones, 25 times more than it had in 2001.

“The Predator teams have just been doing unbelievable work down there (in Basra) and in Baghdad as well,” Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said in a statement last week.

Read moreDrone attacks hit high in Iraq

Former workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

WASHINGTON — KBR employees working in Iraq stole weapons, artwork and even gold to make spurs for cowboy boots, two former company workers told Senate Democrats on Monday.

Appearing before a Democrats-only panel looking into allegations of contracting abuses in Iraq, the witnesses accused their former co-workers of widespread improper activity.


Linda Warren, former employee of KBR, shows the flag she brought back from Iraq during testimony on Capitol Hill on Monday. Warren said many of her colleagues stole numerous items while doing reconstruction work in Iraq.
SUSAN WALSH
: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Read moreFormer workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

DynCorp Manager Used Armored Car To Transport Hookers in Iraq

Some explosive testimony this afternoon from a panel of whistleblowers testifying before the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee on contractor abuse in Iraq.

A contractor died when a DynCorp manager used an employee’s armored car to transport prostitutes, according to Barry Halley, a Worldwide Network Services employee working under a DynCorp subcontract.

“DynCorp’s site manager was involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by DynCorp. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was travelling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by the contractor’s manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Other revelations:

– Kellogg Brown & Root contractors used to destroy countless quantities of still-usable equipment that was difficult to transport in “massive burn pits” that were “burning 24 hours a day.”

– KBR’s ice foreman “was cheating the troops out of ice at the same time that he was trading the ice for DVDs, CDs, food and other items at the Iraqi shops across the street.”

– When KBR whistleblower Frank Cassaday reported weapons looting, he was placed in a jail tent by KBR security.

– KBR employees looted Iraqi palaces for treasure to sell on eBay.

Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Source: Muckraked

Israel preparing to bomb Iran N-sites

The commander of the Israeli Air Force says the regime’s decision makers have been preparing plans to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities.

General Eliezer Shkedi, who also heads the Israeli task force on Iran, made the remarks in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday.

A large portion of Shkedi’s service has been dedicated to the preparation for a possible mission that was never discussed in public; an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should international economic sanctions fail, Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on Monday.

Shkedi spoke of a mission in 1981, when Israeli war planes attacked a nuclear reactor in Iraq.

He went on to say that today the Israeli decision makers are faced with a similar choice about Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli and US officials accuse Iran of seeking nuclear bombs.

Iran, a member of the IAEA and a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), maintains that its nuclear activates are solely aimed at peaceful purposes.

Tehran has warned Tel Aviv of a crushing response, in case the regime launches an attack on the Islamic Republic.

JS/DT
Tue, 29 Apr 2008 05:06:54

Source: Press TV

Wall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

April 28 (Bloomberg) — As farmers confront mounting costs and riots erupt from Haiti to Egypt over food, Garry Niemeyer is paying the price for Wall Street’s speculation in grain markets.

Commodity-index funds control a record 4.51 billion bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans through Chicago Board of Trade futures, equal to half the amount held in U.S. silos on March 1. The holdings jumped 29 percent in the past year as investors bought grain contracts seeking better returns than stocks or bonds. The buying sent crop prices and volatility to records and boosted the cost for growers and processors to manage risk.

Niemeyer, who farms 2,200 acres in Auburn, Illinois, won’t use futures to protect the value of the crop he will harvest in October. With corn at $5.9075 a bushel, up from $3.88 last year, he says the contracts are too costly and risky. Investors want corn so much that last month they paid 55 cents a bushel more than grain handlers, the biggest premium since 1999.

Read moreWall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

U.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

WASHINGTON—Studies indicate that credit card defaults and related write-offs increased drastically since 2006. Today, lenders write off 33 percent more in credit card debt than they did two years ago.

Statistics show that about 35 percent of all credit card holders are already exhibiting signs of possible default. Late credit card payments result in fees many consumers can’t afford.

Credit card debt accelerated to unprecedented heights since bank loans began to dry up due to mortgage defaults. Total U.S. credit card debt reached almost $800 billion in November 2007, up from around $680 billion in March of last year, according to the latest available government statistics.

In the aftermath of the U.S. mortgage crisis, the credit card bubble may be next to burst. In the past few years, banks have aggressively marketed credit card ownership and usage to consumers with limited income and low credit scores. Credit card standards remain lax, while loan standards have tightened to a degree.

Read moreU.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

Iraq WMD Evangelist’s New Crusade: Secret Ray Guns

Dave Gaubatz is no stranger to controversy.

The former Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent maintains he found Saddam’s WMD bunkers, but that the U.S. military declined to follow up. His repeated allegations were picked up by a number of media outlets— and attracted the attention of prominent Congressmen, like then-Sen. Rick Santorum, then-Rep. Curt Weldon, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra. There hasn’t been any confirmation, however.

Lately, Gaubatz has been pushing another eye-opening assertion. Earlier this month, Gaubatz claimed that the Active Denial System, the military’s allegedly-nonlethal “heat ray,” is really a killer weapon, after all. It’s an allegation that, if true, would mean the entire public face of the program is a cover up of sorts. Gaubatz says he saw first hand the military testing the ray gun on… goats.

DANGER ROOM caught up with Gaubatz recently to quiz him a bit about his claims:

Read moreIraq WMD Evangelist’s New Crusade: Secret Ray Guns

English village to be invaded in spybot competition

A village in south-west England will shortly be swarming with robots competing to show off their surveillance skills.

The event is the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) answer to the US DARPA Grand Challenge that set robotic cars against one another to encourage advances in autonomous vehicles.

This village, built for urban warfare training during the Cold War, will host teams of ground-based and aerial robots hunting for snipers, bombs, and other threats (Image: MoD)
Enlarge image

This village, built for urban warfare training during the Cold War, will host teams of ground-based and aerial robots hunting for snipers, bombs, and other threats (Image: MoD)

The MoD Grand Challenge is instead designed to boost development of teams of small robots able to scout out hidden dangers in hostile urban areas.

Over 10 days in August, 11 teams of robots will compete to locate and identify four different threats hidden around a mock East German village used for urban warfare training, at Copehill Down, Wiltshire (see image, top right).

The robots must find snipers, armed vehicles, armed foot soldiers, and improvised explosive devices hidden around the village, and relay a real-time picture of what is happening back to a command post.

Read moreEnglish village to be invaded in spybot competition

Gasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Big New Shock at the Pump Forecast by Two Analysts

Get ready for another economic shock of major proportions — a virtual doubling of prices at the gas pump to as much as $10 a gallon.

That’s the message from a couple of analytical energy industry trackers, both of whom, based on the surging oil prices, see considerably more pain at the pump than most drivers realize.

Gasoline nationally is in an accelerated upswing, having jumped to $3.58 a gallon from $3.50 in just the past week. In some parts of the country, including New York City and the West Coast, gas is already sporting a price tag above $4 a gallon. There was a pray-in at a Chevron station in San Francisco on Friday led by a minister asking God for cheaper gas, and an Arco gas station in San Mateo, Calif., has already raised its price to a sky-high $4.62.

Read moreGasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Rice Rationing Hits Israel

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Rationing of rice by retail stores has spread as far as Israel since The New York Sun reported on the phenomenon in Northern California last week.

The Blue Square and Supersol supermarket chains have begun limiting purchases of rice, Israeli newspapers said yesterday. Supersol is restricting each customer to “three bags per type of grain product,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Meanwhile, Asian grocery stores seem to be joining their larger wholesale-style competitors in curbing purchases. A supermarket chain which caters to Chinese Americans, 99 Ranch, is imposing two-bag-per-customer limits on most of its 20-pound and 50-pound sacks of rice, according to signs at its store in Cupertino, Calif. That store and others in the chain were selling rice without limitation a week ago.

Read moreRice Rationing Hits Israel

FEMA To Help Run 8-Day Disaster & Terror Drill

FEMA announced recently that they will be conducting a national disaster exercise called National Level Exercise 2-08 (NLE 2-08) from May 1st through May 8th. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare and respond to multiple incidents including natural disasters and terrorist incidents. Specifically the exercise involves a Category 4 hurricane impacting the Mid Atlantic Coast and the National Capitol Region as well as multiple terrorist attacks in Washington State, an accidental chemical agent release in Oregon and assorted aerospace events in North American airspace. Considering that the U.S. government conducted drills and exercises like Operation Northern Vigilance, Tripod II, among others to serve as cover for the government sponsored false flag terror attacks of 9/11, we need to pay close attention to these government sponsored drills and exercises. A similar scenario also occurred during the 7/7 terror attacks in London. On that day, drills depicting events mirroring the actual terror attacks were run at the exact same time the bombings took place. The odds of these being two completely random events is so incredibly unlikely that it boggles the mind. NLE 2-08 is a wide ranging exercise that will include not only FEMA but the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Transportation Command, the National Guard, USNORTHCOM, NORAD and Canada Command. Much like TOPOFF-4/Vigilant Shield 08 a martial law exercise that took place last year involving many of the same government institutions, we definitely need to keep track of NLE 2-08.

Below is taken from FEMA’s press release on this upcoming drill.

Read moreFEMA To Help Run 8-Day Disaster & Terror Drill

Top Russian official goes to Iran to discuss security

A top Russian official is arriving in Tehran on Sunday to discuss security, topical international and regional issues, the Supreme National Security Council of Iran said on Sunday.

Valentin Sobolev, acting secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, will hold talks with his Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili, and other Iranian officials.

Sobolev will be paying a return visit to Tehran following a visit by Jalili to Moscow in December 2007, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said.

Source: Ria Novosti

UN troops armed DR Congo rebels

Bullet casings found near human remains in Bogoro, DR Congo 2007
The FNI militia is accused of carrying out massacres of villagers in DR Congo

The UN has covered up claims that its troops in Democratic Republic of Congo gave arms to militias and smuggled gold and ivory, the BBC has learned.

The allegations, based on confidential UN sources, involve Pakistani and Indian troops working as peacekeepers.

The UN investigated some of the claims in 2007, but said it could not substantiate claims of arms dealing.

UN insiders told the BBC’s Panorama they had been prevented from pursuing their inquiries for political reasons.

Gold and ivory

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc) is the global body’s largest, with 17,000 troops spread across the country.

It’s true they did, give us arms. They said it was for the security of the country
‘Kung-fu’
FNI leader

The BBC’s Martin Plaut, who returned to DR Congo to follow up his initial investigation into the allegations, says they have managed to bring a measure of stability since they were first established by the UN in February 2000.

They have also helped disarm the warring factions, run democratic elections and assisted with reconstruction.

But an 18-month BBC investigation for Panorama has found evidence that:

– Pakistani peacekeepers in the eastern town of Mongbwalu were involved in the illegal trade in gold with the FNI militia, providing them with weapons to guard the perimeter of the mines

– Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now living in eastern DR Congo

– The Indians traded gold, bought drugs from the militias and flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory

The UN looked into the allegations concerning the Pakistani troops in 2007.

It concluded that one officer had been responsible for dealing in gold – allowing traders to use UN aircraft to fly into the town, putting them up at the UN base and taking them around the town.

But the UN decided that “in the absence of corroborative evidence” its investigators “could not substantiate the allegation” that Pakistani peacekeepers supplied weapons or ammunition to the militia.

It did, however, identify “an individual who seemed to have facilitated gold smuggling”.

Read moreUN troops armed DR Congo rebels

Ted Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push
Billionaire Globalist Ted Turner, who earlier this month predicted that global warming would eventually lead to cannibalism, has repeated his call to curb population growth, claiming that disappearing farmland will cause food riots, despite the fact that Turner himself is behind the push to grow corn-based ethanol, an industry the UN has blamed for food shortages and increased poverty.

“There are a lot of different problems being caused by an ever-increasing number of people in a finite-sized world,” Turner told CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “The resources of the planet just can’t keep up with the demand and I’m afraid this going to be more commonplace. I’m afraid we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. It’s very complicated I do want to say.”

Watch the video.

“We’ve had warnings for a number of years,” Turner said. “Grain stocks have been dropping every year for the last 10 years or pretty close to that – the reserves. And, the environment in so many different areas is being – the pressure being put on it by the ever-increasing number of people and the number of people using more stuff and more energy – that’s what ‘s leading to global climate change and the over-fishing of the oceans,” he added.

Read moreTed Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

OPEC president sees $200 oil possible

ALGIERS (Reuters) – OPEC President Chakib Khelil does not rule out oil prices reaching $200 a barrel, even though supply is adequate, because the market is driven by the dollar’s slide, Algerian government newspaper El Moudjahid reported on Monday.

“Questioned about a possible rise which would go to $200, the minister did not rule out this eventuality, explaining that this rise is indexed from now on to the fall in the dollar or to the rise in the dollar,” El Moudjahid reported.

“In terms of fundamentals, stocks are high, demand is easing, supply is satisfactory. Therefore normally, without geo-political problems and the fall of the dollar, the prices of oil would not be at this level,” he was quoted as saying.

Khelil, a former World Bank official, is also Algeria’s Minister of Energy and Mines.

He added: “The prices are high due to the fact of the recession in the United States and the economic crisis which has touched several countries, a situation which has an effect on the devaluation of the dollar, and therefore each time the dollar falls one percent, the price of the barrel rises by $4, and of course vice versa,” he was quoted as saying in brief remarks to journalists on Sunday.

He added that: “If this (the dollar) strengthens by 10 percent, it is probable that (oil) prices will fall by 40 percent.”

If the U.S. economic situation improved from now to the end of the year “that would help the market to stabilize.”

“But I don’t think that an increase in production would help lower prices, because there is a balance between supply and demand and the stocks of gasoline in the United States have recorded a surplus and are at their highest level for five years.”

The independent El Watan newspaper reported Khelil as saying that if the dollar’s value on currency markets stayed as it was at present, then oil prices would be expected to remain at between $80 and $110 a barrel.

(Reporting by William Maclean; editing by James Jukwey)

Mon Apr 28, 2008 5:59am EDT

Source: Reuters

General: Homeland response task force to be ready by fall

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The Pentagon will have its first specially trained task force designed to rapidly respond to a catastrophic attack against the United States ready by this fall, a top military commander said last week.

Gen. Victor “Gene” Renuart, chief of the U.S. Northern Command, said the brigade-sized unit will consist of military personnel who are trained to help local authorities respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The unit will have between 4,000 and 4,500 people and come from various bases and specialties across the country. When disaster strikes, those dedicated to the task force will come together to form the unit.

“Today we pull that together very quickly to respond,” Renuart said Thursday. “This unit will be trained to react in a very short period of time.”

Renuart, the top commander in charge of defending the homeland, is traveling through Europe this month to exchange information with NATO leaders on how military forces can fight homeland terrorism and respond to national disasters.

U.S. Northern Command, called NORTHCOM for short, was created in 2002 to oversee the Pentagon’s homeland defense efforts and support civil authorities. The creation of the rapid-response team comes after congressional leaders questioned heavily the military’s ability to react to a major attack against the United States.

Read moreGeneral: Homeland response task force to be ready by fall

The food crisis begins to bite

Rioting in Haiti. Rationing in America. Queues in Egypt. Protests in Afghanistan. As the price of food continues to soar, the impact is being felt by people around the globe

CHINA

The roaring economy and an ever expanding middle class have had a particularly profound effect on food prices, particularly rice and wheat. Because of industrialisation, rice planting fell from 33 million hectares in 1983 to 29 million by 2006 and China now imports more than ever, placing a major strain on international supplies. Despite freezing prices, rampant inflation means the cost of food has risen by 21 per cent this year.

USA

In a land where supposedly the rich are thin and the poor are overweight, one of the largest cash and carry stores, Sam’s Club, announced this week it would limit customers to take home a maximum of four bags of rice. The move came a day after Costco Wholesale Corp, the biggest US warehouse-club operator, limited bulk rice purchases in some stores and warned that customers had begun stockpiling certain goods.

NORTH KOREA

Even during times of relative stability, North Korea has shown itself to be inept at feeding its population. During the 1990s a famine caused by poor harvests killed an estimated two to three million people. On Wednesday the World Food Programme warned that the country could again be plunged into famine because of the spiralling cost of rice and there was an estimated shortfall of 1.6 million tons of rice and wheat.

EGYPT

Up to 50 million Egyptians rely on subsidised bread and this year Cairo has estimated it will cost $2.5bn. But with the price of wheat rocketing in the past year there are fears the country has plunged into a “bread crisis”. Queues are now double the length they were a year ago. Inflation hit 12.1 per cent in February with prices for dairy goods up 20 per cent and cooking oils 40 per cent

VENEZUELA

Latin American countries were some of the first nations to voice their concern at rising wheat prices, particularly after thousands of people in Mexico took to the streets at the beginning of 2007 to take part in the so-called “Tortilla Protests”. This week the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba’s vice-president flew to Caracas to announce a joint $100m scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region’s poor.

BRAZIL

On Wednesday Brazil became the latest major rice producer to temporarily suspend exports because of soaring costs and domestic shortages. In recent weeks Latin American countries and African nations have asked for up to 500,000 tons of rice from Brazil which will now not be delivered. Brazil’s agricultural ministry has said it has to ensure that the country has at least enough rice reserves to last the next six to eight months.

IVORY COAST

Some of the worst instability resulting from high food prices has been felt in West Africa. One person was killed and dozens were injured last month as riots tore through Ivory Coast after the prices of meat and wheat increased by 50 per cent within a week. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was forced to cut taxes to halt the disorder. Violent protests have also broken out in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

AFGHANISTAN

There have been street protests about the soaring cost of food in a country almost entirely reliant on imports of wheat. Already utterly impoverished, the plight of Afghans has worsened because Pakistan has cut its regular flour supply. The government has sought to assure citizens that there is sufficient food and has set aside $50m for additional imports. The price of wheat has risen by around 60 per cent in the last year.

THAILAND

The price of rice in the world’s largest exporter rose to $1,000 a ton yesterday and experts warned that it will continue to rise. This is because of the massive demand from the Philippines which is struggling to secure supplies after India and several other producers halted exports. The government has said it can meet the export requests. Indonesia has said it is withholding purchases for a year because prices are so high.

EAST AFRICA

Hundreds of thousands of poor Africans in Uganda and Sudan are to lose out on a vital source of food after one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations said it was cutting aid to 1.5m people. Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, blamed soaring costs and countries failing to live up to aid commitments for the fact that the number of people the charity can help will fall by almost a quarter.

INDIA

The country as added to the problems facing many countries in the region by halting its export of rice, except for its premium basmati product. This has left countries normally reliant on Indian exports, such as the Philippines, searching for alternative supplies. India has more than half of the world’s hungriest people and its priority is to safeguard domestic supply. But it too has watched as the cost of food has soared, not just rice but cooking oil, pulses and even vegetables. India has this year forecast a record grain harvest but experts warned farm productivity will have to rise much faster if the nation is to feed its 1.1bn people and avoid a food security crisis. Around two-thirds of India’s population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods but agriculture is growing much more slowly than the overall economy.

HAITI

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere has seen a three to four-fold increase in the number of so-called boat people trying to leave because of food shortages. Already gripped by wretched poverty, the food crisis triggered riots that led to the death of six people. Haiti’s wretched food security situation is a result of “liberalisation measures” forced on the country after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was returned to power.

THE PHILIPPINES

The government has been desperately trying to secure alternative sources of rice to counteract the decision of a number of nations to halt rice exports. The country’s National Food Authority, which handles rice imports for the government, has now said it plans to increase imports 42 per cent to 2.7m tons this year. This could cost $1.3bn if it does not increase the price of the subsidised rice it is selling to people. But the Philippines is responsible for producing 85 per cent of its own food and international experts believe the country will handle this crisis. The government has also been encouraging consumers and even fast food restaurants to be more frugal and be careful not to waste food. The government is confident it will be able to source sufficient supplies from Vietnam and Thailand.

EUROPE

Less vulnerable to food price fluctuations than emerging nations, but food prices across Europe have nonetheless increased. In Britain wholesale prices of food have increased by 7.4 per cent over the past 12 months, roughly three times the headline rate of inflation. According to the government’s own statistics grocery bills have gone up by an average of £750 over the same period, the equivalent of a 12 per cent rise.

By Jerome Taylor and Andrew Buncombe
Friday, 25 April 2008

Source: The Independent