$4 Gas? What Next? $20 Steaks

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May 17, 2008

Last week’s post on this subject raised some responders’ temperatures and stimulated a spirited discussion, so let’s throw some more fuel on the smoldering coals of soaring food prices and see where it takes us. First, the dire future for meat eaters.


One respondent took me to task for talking about beef eating in India: “Dude, they don’t eat beef in India, remember? Cows are sacred.” It is not just India where meat–including beef–eating is rising (India’s middle class is estimated at 350 million, the size of the entire US population, and consumes 2.8 kg–6.16 lb–per person per year, not a great amount per person but still amounting to a total of 6.16 billion pounds of beef per year). Brazil’s meat consumption has doubled since 1980 (now 197 pounds per person per year), China’s has quadrupled to 109 pounds (most of it pork), and in the US from 234 pounds in 1980 to 273 pounds per person in 2007 says the USDA–despite the trend toward more healthful and vegetarian food choices.This rise in meat consumption by the newly affluent middle classes in developing nations has created a shortage of grain, which is fed to the meat animals. The USDA reports that it takes 7 pounds of corn to produce one pound of beef, 6.5 pounds for one pound of pork, and 2.6 pounds for one pound of chicken. The grain shortage by itself has caused prices to rise, but along with the increased price of oil, the transportation of both the meat and grain to feed the cattle, hogs, and chickens has also pushed prices higher.

Add to that the amount of corn (a grain) being used to make ethanol to fuel our vehicles, which has already pushed corn futures to nearly $6 bushel ($3.40 in 2007), along with speculators hoping to profit on the rising prices are pushing prices even further into the stratosphere. As US News & World Report stated in their May 19th issue, “the era of cheap meat may be over.”

FOOTNOTE: The problem is not one of general global food shortages, but rather of rising prices due to many factors–global climate change, rising oil prices, futures speculators, increased demand, transportation costs–all coming together. There are no easy or quick answers to soaring food prices and worldwide starvation. But we might start by helping the world’s poor with increasing production of subsistence farming. Indian farmers produce 3 to 4 times what an African farmer produces on th same size farm, a Chinese 7 times as much. If our food aid program were to supply fertilizer, seeds, and know-how to poor farmers, it would do much more to relieve their hunger than just giving them our excess food supplies.

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  4. Dave

    My 2.00 @lb. steak and burger taste great, and all I feed them is grass and water.

  5. I don’t understand how global warming enters into the price of food. Plants and animals do better in warm weather. If we really want to create food shortages, try an ice age, even a mini ice age, as we had through much of the last millenium, ending about 1850.

  6. Don Nesbitt

    Looks like real life experiences indicate you may be correct sooner than you think.

    Without all the economic/politcal explanations, the reality is that in Amarillo, TX last week the price of skirt steak was $9.59/lb. athe Albertson’s where we were shopping. $9.59/lb. for Skirt Steak!

    Don Nesbitt
    Cary, NC