FAO sees Jan food prices close to record high

Mon Jan 31, 2011 11:34am GMT

By Svetlana Kovalyova

MILAN (Reuters) - World food prices in January are expected to be close to record highs seen in December when they climbed above peaks which triggered riots in several countries in 2008, an economist at the United Nations' food agency said.

"FAO's expectation is that the January index would be very close or slightly below December," Abdolreza Abbassian, UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation economist, told Reuters on Monday ahead of the release of FAO's monthly food index.

The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly price changes for a food basket composed of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, hit an all-time high of 214.7 points in December, above a previous record set in June 2008 during the food crisis.

High food prices have come back into the spotlight after they fuelled protests in Tunisia that led to the fall of the president there earlier this month and have spilled over to Egypt.

World leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week warned rising food prices risked stoking more unrest and even war. French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated calls for regulation to rein in speculation and volatility.

According to preliminary estimates, prices of sugar, some grains and oilseeds in January were slightly below levels seen in December, Abbassian said in a telephone interview.

He said the FAO uses spot and physical prices to calculate the index and does not use futures prices which rallied in January.

U.S. corn and soybean futures topped out at 2-1/2 year highs in January and U.S. wheat futures hit a 29-month high last Thursday as buyers scrambled for supplies amid harsh weather in major producing countries such as Australia and Russia.   Continued...

<p>A shopper is seen at a branch of South African retailer Pick n Pay in Johannesburg October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>
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