Rice Rationing in US: New Harbinger of Famine

By David L. Brown

The onrushing food crisis is gaining momentum, as reflected in the news story below from FoxNews.com. I am including the entire online article because this is important. Unfortunately, Fox didn’t think it was, playing it way down in their news site.

The specter of famine is rapidly developing as the biggest story of the 21st Century, but meantime the news media think it is more important to alert us to the latest shenanigans of important world figures such as Tom Cruise and the latest “American Idol” wannabe, a report of a grizzly bear attack, and a number of other sensationalist stories worthy of the National Enquirer, all of which got top play this morning on the FoxNews site.

Here’s the story that Fox buried way down as the fifth item under “Business”:

Wal-Mart Rations Rice, Warns of “Supply and Demand” Concerns

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said on Wednesday that it would ration the amount of rice each customer can purchase at its Sam’s Club warehouse stores because of recent “supply and demand trends.”

“We are limiting the sale of Jasmine, Basmati and Long Grain White Rices to four bags per member visit,” the company said in a statement. “This is effective immediately in all of our U.S. clubs, where quantity restrictions are allowed by law.”

Wal-Mart is the second-major grocer to limit the purchasing of a commodity because of the recent run up in prices. The company said it is not limiting the purchase of other basic food products like flour or oil.

The price of rice, which is the primary foodstuff for the majority of the human population around the world, rose to $894 a metric ton according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association. That’s compared to the $327.25 a ton average price in the same month last year.

In Chicago, the price of export-quality rice rose to $24.745 per 100 pounds on Tuesday.

The run up in price in rice is primarily related to poor harvests and countries curbing exports. Thailand, Asia’s largest exporter of rice, said it may curb exports.

The World Food Program called the recent run up in prices of rice and other basic commodities a “silent famine.”
Wal-Mart did not say when the rationing would end, but it was “working with our suppliers to address this matter to ensure we are in stock, and we are asking for our members’ cooperation and patience.”

Costco, the nation’s largest warehouse retailer, said yesterday according to Reuters that it had seen increased demand for basic food staples as well like rice and flour. The company had put limits on purchases as well.

Well, whoops! As I wrote here just a few days ago in my essay “Consumption Pushing the Limits for Rice,” posted April 17, the outlook for what is the staple food for about one-third of the world’s people is dim and growing more dire by the day.

A sense of deep-rooted fear is beginning to set in as the prospects for famine spread dark wings around the globe. As mentioned above, many nations are shutting off exports to in effect hoard their home-grown supplies of rice. That is pushing up the price of wheat and other grains as well, leaving many of the poorest people without the ability to buy enough food to survive. As many as a billion human beings have already been living on the edge, in a state of perpetual malnutrition. Now they are being pushed over the brink into what is rapidly becoming outright famine.

The world has experienced famines before, but never one like this. In the past, before the global economy that we now enjoy, famines were local or regional events. This one is different because it involves the entire world, from America to Zambia.

The latest issue of The Economist that arrived in my mailbox yesterday features as its lead article in-depth coverage of what they call “The Silent Tsunami,” their analogy for the spreading danger of famine. I will study that in detail and may give a report here later. But a first glance at the related articles, which purport to tell us what can be done about the problem, gives me pause. One obvious “solution” is to provide more money to the UN food aid programs.

Well, as I have pointed out here recently, money is not the answer when demand exceeds supply, which is now the case for food. In fact, follow this line of reasoning to see the extent of the problem:

1 – Country A is plagued by widespread hunger and starvation. Money is allocated to buy food to sustain the residents of A and UN agencies go to the world grain markets to buy that food.

2 – Supply is short so the more demand there is, the higher prices will rise. Purchases of rice or other grains for UN food aid will bid up the price even more. Prices rise beyond the expanded UN budgets, requiring even more money to be allocated to food aid programs.

3 – A runaway cycle will continue, with more panic causing nations to block exports and individuals to hoard food. The richest nations will continue to buy the diminishing supplies and the cycle will continue.

4 – The continued demand combined with hoarding will price food beyond the reach of even more people, dragging them into the spreading whirlpool of famine. This cycle will continue to kick up to higher and higher levels as bidders continue to push food prices higher. And if 2008 should happen to see widespread drought and heat, the situation could reel completely out of control into a global famine event such as never before seen.

Gotta go for now, but this is perhaps the most important developing story of our time so I will be sure to follow it closely. Meanwhile, Allah help those who are turning food into fake fuel. Should there be a Hell, I suspect Satan may have to devise some new and even more horrible punishments for those evildoers.

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