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High Food Prices Here To Stay

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PARIS -- High food prices are likely to rise even further over the next decade, putting the poor at an increasing risk of malnutrition and hunger, a world food report warned Friday.

The joint report of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the risk of price volatility that has hurt farmers across the globe remains high. The OECD leader came out to back France's demand for increased transparency and more regulation and public information in the farm commodities markets as a key measure to stabilize prices.

"Information is absolutely of the essence," OECD chief Angel Gurria said. "The one market that we don't know and where we have a lot of blind spots is precisely the agricultural market," where such critical information like the size of stocks remains largely hidden.

The two organizations warned that harvests, currently threatened by drought in several key regions, will be critical.

"It still remains to be seen to what extent the dry conditions in much of Europe affect world markets this year," said Gurria.

The report predicts that prices will be 20 percent higher for cereals and up to 30 percent higher for meat in the coming decade compared to the past ten years.

It will specifically hit poor people who now already spend up to 80 percent of their income on food. "People are going be forced, either to literally eat less, or find other sources of income," Gurria said.

An extreme food price hike in 2008 spurred riots in almost two dozen nations over three continents, and did much to bring the potential of political instability because of food prices to the fore.

Oxfam said the situation could well be more dire if global warming is taken into account. "By ignoring the impacts of climate change on agriculture production the report underestimates the scale of the challenge we face and the scale of the response that is needed to fix our broken food system," Oxfam spokesman Thierry Kesteloot said.

French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire said controlling excessive market speculation through tougher regulation, supervision and transparency would go a long way to avoid the price instability seen over the past years.

He said he realizes, however, that finding agreement among the G-20 nations poses many challenges.

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