Nestle chief warns of new food riots

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01:42 PM October 8th, 2011

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October 8th, 2011 01:42 PM

VIENNA—The head of the world’s biggest food company Nestle said Friday that rising food prices have created conditions “similar” to 2008 when hunger riots took place in many countries.

“The situation is similar (to 2008). This has become the new reality,” the Swiss giant’s chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe told the Salzburger Nachrichten daily in his native Austria in an interview.

“We have reached a level of food prices that is substantially higher than before. It will likely settle down at this level.

“If you live in a developing country and spend 80 percent of your income on food then of course you are going to feel it more than here (in Europe) where it is maybe eight percent.”

In 2008, the price of cereals reached historic levels, provoking a food crisis and riots in a number of African countries, as well as in Haiti and the Philippines.

In September the UN food agency’s food price index came in at 225 points, just higher than the peak it hit in June 2008. It is down from the record 237.7 points hit in February this year.

Food price inflation this year is seen as having contributed to the “Arab Spring” unrest in north Africa and the Middle East and there are fears of fresh unrest elsewhere.

The increases are blamed on speculative commodity trading, climate change, rising populations and changing eating habits in countries like India and China, most notably an increase in meat consumption by a growing middle class.

Brabeck-Letmathe said another factor was water, saying humans were “using more water than is sustainable” and calling for the price of water to rise in order to encourage firms and consumers to be less wasteful.

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