The global food crisis reached the United States yesterday as big retailers began to ration sales of rice in response to bulk purchases by customers alarmed by rocketing prices of staples.
Wal-Mart’s cash and carry division, Sam’s Club, announced it would sell a maximum of four bags of rice per person to prevent supplies from running short. Its decision followed sporadic caps placed on purchases of rice and flour by some store managers at a rival bulk chain, Costco, in parts of California.
The world price of rice has risen 68% since the start of 2008, but in some US shops the price has doubled in weeks.
Retail experts said there was little evidence of panic hoarding by the public but that restaurants and smaller retailers were buying up stocks at wholesalers in the expectation that the cost would go even higher. Shops said Filipino residents in the US were also making large purchases to send to relatives in the Philippines, where a shortage of supplies is causing concern.
“What you’re seeing is people who buy in larger quantities, who have a restaurant or a corner store, stocking up because of media reports that prices could go higher,” said Dave Heylen, a spokesman for the California Grocers Association.
The price of staple foods has been rising at an accelerating rate across the world, driven by what the United Nations has called a “perfect storm” of rising demand from developing countries such as China and India, the impact of climate change and policy responses by governments.