Agricultural Economics Department

 

Date of this Version

May 2008

Abstract

Food prices in the U.S. rose dramatically in 2007 and early 2008. Given the integration of the world markets for foodstuffs, prices increased around the world as well, leading to riots in a number of countries in early 2008. The popular press has tended to attribute these food price increases to demand for corn by the ethanol industry. Grain prices are one determinant of food prices, but they constitute less than 5% of food costs in the U.S.(a higher percentage elsewhere.) This paper focuses on the likely relationship between ethanol and food prices, ignoring the potential role of other important contributors. It finds that ethanol is responsible for no more than 30-40% of the grain price increases of the last 18 months. Food prices in the US increased about 16% over the last five years,7% over the past 18 months, but rising grain prices have contributed only about a 3% cost increase over these periods. It is reasonable to conclude that ethanol is responsible for increases in US food prices about 1% in the last two years – a relatively small proportion of actual of U.S. food price increases. In food-insecure areas of the world,however, the impact of ethanol on food prices has been higher, perhaps as much as a 15% increase, simply because the typical food basket in those areas contains more direct grain consumption.