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The Rising Cost of Food: What is Our Food Future?

As with all of the NIF issues guides, three or more approaches are offered for discussion, each of which represents a different point of view.

Problem statement: The cost of food is stretching many people’s budgets. People have lost touch with the source of food, and lost connection with the producers of food. The world population continues to grow, placing increasing pressures on the ability to feed everyone.

Approach 1:  Taking Personal Stock: Reassessing Lifestyle, Values and Choices. As citizen in a democracy we have an obligation to take part in developing a healthy, affordable food system. A do-it-yourself approach can lead to individual empowerment. We must take personal stock of food consumption, our lifestyle, values, and choices that we make regarding food. It is time to consider eating foods whose cost is less dependent on expensive fossil fuels. A direct connection with one’s food can offset unintended negative consequences, foster a sense of personal responsibility for our food system, and improve individual decision making.

Approach 2: Reassess personal consumption, lifestyle, values and behavior. Access to a healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate diet is an essential citizenship right. Our current system of producing, processing, and marketing food has created tremendous social and environmental problems which we are forced to address. This includes a historic inability to feed the world’s hungry. Food is essential to our health and well being and plays a central role in the social connections and cultural traditions that help define community life. Local food systems allow communities to more closely monitor environmental impacts of agricultural production, reconnect people to the source of food production, and provide economic development opportunities for local workers.

Approach 3. Increase Food Production: More People = More Demand. The problems of rising food costs and declining food availability are serious, world-wide, and production-based requiring large scale production enhancing solutions. Technology, especially the use of advanced genetics and other crop management techniques, can effectively solve our problems. Population growth along with increased longevity demands responsive increases in productivity and yield to meet this global demand. Most people purchase their food through traditional distribution and retail systems and will continue to do so into the future.

Resources for the Forum:

Forum Agenda (Microsoft Word document)

Issue Book - The Rising Cost of Food: What is Our Food Future? (PDF file) This issue book was created by a Project Team led primarily by members of the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Information on Food Costs:

Food prices rise 7 pct in 2008: farm group (Reuters, January 7, 2009)

"The U.S. Agriculture Department recently lowered its food inflation forecast for 2009 by 0.5 percentage point to 4 percent. The department estimates food prices rose by 5.5 percent in 2008, the largest annual increase since 1990. . . .

The Farm Bureau, which represents livestock and crop producers, said while retail food prices have risen over time, the share of each food dollar that returns to farmers and ranchers has decreased. According to Sartwelle, farmers took home about one-third of the price consumers paid for grocery items during the mid-1970s. Now, that figure amounts to only 19 percent. 

Of the $48.19 paid for the Farm Bureau's grocery basket of basics, just $9.16 would go to farmers."

How Low Has the Farm Share of Retail Food Prices Really Fallen? (Economic Research Service, USDA, August, 2006)

"Farmers are receiving a smaller share of what consumers pay for many food products at retail. The market basket data series, maintained by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), shows that costs for marketing services - such as transportation, processing, and retailing - are growing more quickly than farm receipts for major commodity groupings. For example, in 1982, farmers1 captured 34 percent and 33 percent of what consumers paid for fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, respectively, at retail foodstores; by 2004, these farm shares had declined to 19 percent for fresh vegetables and 20 percent for fresh fruit." Page 1.

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