Food Riots: A Sign of the “Beginning of Sorrows”?

Wheat: How Long Will There Be Enough of It?


Last night, the following news item came out:

The Growing Food Cost Crisis

Sharp price hikes are hurting the poor and sparking violence

US News & World Report – March 7, 2008

The troubles erupted early last year. First, there were the tortilla riots in Mexico City: 75,000 angry demonstrators, mostly poor, taking to the streets to protest the surging price of a food staple. Then in Italy, merchants from Milan began clamoring about the cost of pasta. By year’s end, protests had broken out in at least a dozen countries: in India over onions, in Indonesia over soybeans, and, last month, in the small African country of Burkina Faso, where hundreds of looters burned government buildings to protest soaring grain prices.

The United States, like most western countries, has been spared from riots, but the sharp hikes in food prices that have triggered violence abroad are also being felt here. According to the Department of Agriculture, grocery prices are rising at rates not seen since 1990. On the wholesale market, the country’s biggest commodity crops—corn, wheat, and soybeans—are selling at record highs; wheat prices are up nearly 50 percent since the first of the year.

To Americans, the combination of high food prices and social unrest is bound to stir up edgy memories of the early 1970s, when food prices were being pushed up by high energy costs and decreased supplies. The current wave of food troubles, analysts say, is the most significant since then—and arguably more troublesome. “The crisis of 1973 and 1974 was a blip; it went away after a year or two,” says Joachim von Braun, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. “This one is actually quite different and much more serious.” Already, in fact, there are signs that higher prices have caused political instability in a number of countries important to U.S. security interests.

The main differences between the price hikes of the ’70s and those of today are the severity and persistence of their causes. In the 1970s, the increases resulted largely from short-term forces—the Arab oil embargo, which jacked up transportation costs, and regional droughts. In the quarter century that followed, global food prices tumbled dramatically; from 1974 to the early 2000s, real food prices, on average, fell 75 percent.

Soaring demand. By contrast, the current causes are more varied and stubborn—and, in many cases, growing. Overseas, an expanding middle class is fueling unprecedented demand. In China and India, hundreds of millions of people, earning larger incomes, are buying not only more food but more expensive food, such as grain-guzzling beef. By some estimates, developing countries, come 2016, will consume 25 percent more poultry and 50 percent more pork than they do today…

For Americans, the prognosis is somewhat murky. The USDA says it expects food prices to rise at abnormal rates for at least the next few years. It’s a disconcerting trend, but largely tolerable…

For now, however, the situation is grim. Relief programs, including USAID and the U.N. World Food Program, are predicting huge budget shortfalls because of soaring crop prices. usaid, predicting a $200 million gap this year, is considering making deep cuts to some of its emergency programs, such as those in Iraq and Sudan. Meanwhile, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in Latin America and West Africa, millions are growing dissatisfied with their governments. “There is a reason why politicians for hundreds of years have been emphasizing a chicken in every pot,” said UNWFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “Food is the most basic requirement of society. When prices go up, the pressures come quicker.”

Jesus Himself warned:

And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows (Mark 13:8).

Elsewhere, the Bible warns of escalating food prices:

“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:6).

In the past month or so, the Living Church of God has been warning of food shortages and rising food prices (please see News of the Living Church of God page). We may, as I have written before, be in the time that Jesus referred to as the “beginning of sorrows”.

Those interested in more details of events that precede the Great Tribulation may wish to read the article Who is the King of the North?

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