OPINION - Don’t read this while hungry

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

Watching your car’s odometer tick over from 99,999 miles to 100,000 is low-key exhilarating. Seeing the cost of filling a tank of petrol hit £100 is considerably less so.

Now, I don’t drive a car, but I do eat, so I wanted to talk a little bit about food prices, and specifically wheat, on which more than a third of the world’s population relies as the primary staple in their diet.

The cost of wheat has risen roughly 40 per cent this year. The first cause is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given that both countries are major producers and together account for nearly 30 per cent of global exports, according to the World Bank.

Then, on May 13, the Indian government announced a ban on the export of wheat in an attempt to protect its citizens from rising prices. This followed a period of extremely hot weather which could generously be labelled ‘unseasonable’ but is in reality made more likely as a result of climate change.

While India isn’t a significant exporter, the announcement still sent wheat futures on the benchmark Chicago index up 6 per cent. And it isn’t the only country to restrict exports. Egypt, Kazakhstan and Serbia have done the same.

The US meanwhile has forecast a poor harvest in large part due to pervasive drought in major wheat growing states such as Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Again, climate change makes drought conditions more frequent.

You’d hope high prices would lead to more supply. But war, drought and the soaring cost of fertiliser have combined to mean that is not really the case. For the UK and other high-income nations, this translates into higher food costs. For low-income countries, it threatens famine.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has called Russia’s blockade “blackmail”. America has accused Vladimir Putin of weaponising the prospect of global food shortages as part of its response to Western sanctions. Moscow has indeed implied that the easing of sanctions might see more Ukrainian wheat exports leave the country’s ports.

The reality is, even prior to Covid and the war, global food insecurity was rising. A 2020 UN report estimated that nearly 690 million people, or 9 per cent of the global population – were hungry. That represents an increase of 60 million in five years. The UN also says the number impacted by moderate or severe food insecurity is closer to two billion. This was a crisis before February and it is even more urgent now.

Elsewhere in the paper, as our Courts Correspondent Tristan Kirk reports, three people who attended the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common last March have been convicted and fined after being prosecuted under Covid laws by the Metropolitan Police.

Our leader column today argues this was a curious decision by Scotland Yard, given the intense criticism it received over its handling of the protest. Not least the fact that the High Court ruled earlier this year that the Met’s decision to block the gathering was unlawful because the force had not considered the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

In the comment pages, as the Government considers raising the legal smoking age from 18 by one year every year until eventually no one can buy tobacco, Martha Gills asks: regressive or ingenious? Meanwhile, Reveller Editor David Ellis says the trashing of Il Portico after an event attended by JK Rowling is a low point for London.

And finally, it is important you know that this otherwise interesting story about a 32ft dinosaur (deceased) found on the Isle of Wight - declared Europe’s largest hunter, no less, was embargoed until midday. We waited 125 million years, but man, those last few hours were brutal.

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