A customer pays for sugar at a wholesale market in Old Delhi in New Delhi, India. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan / BloombergBy Rudy Ruitenberg
Jan 5, 2011 4:24 AM PT

World food prices rose to a record in December on higher sugar, grain and oilseed costs, the United Nations said, exceeding levels reached in 2008 that sparked deadly riots from Haiti to Egypt.

An index of 55 food commodities tracked by the Food and Agriculture Organization gained for a sixth month to 214.7 points, above the previous all-time high of 213.5 in June 2008, the Rome-based UN agency said in a monthly report. The gauges for sugar and meat prices advanced to records.

Sugar climbed for a third year in a row in 2010, and corn jumped the most in four years in Chicago. Food prices may rise more unless the world grain crop increases “significantly” in 2011, the FAO said Nov. 17. At least 13 people died last year in Mozambique in protests against plans to lift bread prices.

“There is still, unfortunately, the potential for grain prices to strengthen on the back of a lot of uncertainty,” Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the FAO, said by phone from Rome today. “If anything goes wrong with the South American crop, there is plenty of room for them to increase.”

White, or refined, sugar traded at $752.70 a metric ton at 11:53 a.m. on NYSE Liffe in London, compared with $383.70 at the end of June 2008. Corn, which added 52 percent last year on the Chicago Board of Trade, was at $6.01 a bushel, down from $7.57 in June 2008. Soybeans were at $13.6325 a bushel, against $15.74 at the close of June 2008.

The cost of food climbed 25 percent from a year earlier in December, based on the FAO figures, after Chinese demand strengthened and Russia’s worst drought in a half-century devastated grain crops. The agency’s food-price indicator rose from 206 points in November.

Last month’s year-on-year rise compares with the 43 percent jump in food costs in June 2008. Record fuel prices, weather- related crop problems, increasing demand from the growing Indian and Chinese middle classes, and the push to grow corn for ethanol fuel all contributed to the crisis that year.

“In 2008 we had rapid increases in petroleum prices, fertilizer prices and other inputs,” Abbassian said. “So far, those increases have been rather constrained. It doesn’t really reduce the fear about what could be in store in the coming weeks or months.” …

Global grain output will have to rise at least 2 percent this year to meet demand in 2011-2012 and avoid further depletion of stocks, the UN agency has said. …

World Food Prices Surge to Record, Passing Levels That Sparked 2008 Riots

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