From Volume 7, Issue 30 of EIR Online, Published July 22, 2008

Global Economic News

Japan To Raise Food Self-Sufficiency from 39% to 50%

July 14 (EIRNS)—A panel of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has decided to propose measures to raise Japan's food self-sufficiency rate from the current 39% to 50%. Japan, while it is self-sufficient in rice production, is far from being so in any other food-related area.

The measures being studied include subsidies to get farmers to convert from growing rice, where there is an excess, to growing soy beans and wheat, and serving more rice for school lunches, rather than noodles.

The lack of food self-sufficiency led the Japan Times to editorialize about the ramen noodle: "The rise in prices strongly reminds Japanese, right in their gut, that 90% of wheat is imported. Soaring grain prices mean that the wheat, flour, noodle and ramen chain of production is likely to come under pressure, and soon. As the largest importer of wheat in Asia, with some of the highest transportation costs, government ministries and food importers must start reconsidering the past system of imports. Most ramen makers are considering it every morning."

The ramen price rise—call it the ramen index—reminds us that among all the developed countries of the world, Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio, at 39%, is the lowest. In the past, all food prices have been kept at tolerable levels through various interventions, but this is becoming impossible with the hyperinflation.

The editorial concludes: "It is doubtful there will be ramen street protests any time soon, but were the price of beer ever to start to rise...." Grain for beer in Japan is also imported from world markets.

Pasta Flour Price-Fixing in Italy? Cargill, Bunge Raided

July 14 (EIRNS)—Cargill and Bunge are famous for their decades-long rap sheet of convictions—as well as unindicted crimes—of cartel anti-business practices, including collusion for price fixing; market cornering, bid-rigging for contracts, etc. Now comes a new and worthy criminal investigation: Are they price fixing on pasta flour in Italy?

On July 10, European Union and Italian anti-trust enforcers made surprise visits to the Italian offices of Cargill Inc. and Bunge Ltd., seeking evidence of price-fixing of cereals products, ranging from durum wheat flour to animal feed, and extending outside Italy. The probe continues to make headlines in the food industry press, and is welcomed among farmers as something that "couldn't happen to better people," more deserving of prosecution and jail time.

Cargill, a private company headquartered in Minnesota, and Bunge, are among the top five grain cartel companies worldwide, now making killer profits from food shortages, speculation and biofuels. Cargill's net earnings for its corporate third quarter (ending Feb. 29) were up year on year 86%; and Bunge's net income was up almost 2,000% for its first quarter (ending March), year on year, according to the Wall Street Journal report on the Italian raid.

The two companies' operations in Europe are extensive, as they are the world over. Cargill has a large share of Grandi Molini Italiani SpA, one of Italy's largest millers of pasta flour (durum wheat semolina).

The EU issued a bland statement the day of the raid, saying, "Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels," and that the reason for the search of premises of "traders and distributors of cereals and other agricultural products," is because enforcement officials had "reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated...rules on cartels and restrictive business practices."

The convictions of Cargill and Bunge to date, are legion. During the early years of the U.S. Food for Peace world food relief program, Cargill rigged bids for sweetheart contracts. Most recently, Cargill paid $24 million in fines in 2004 in a pre-trial settlement for price-fixing of corn sweetener, a $3 billion U.S. market. Among the most blatant unindicted crimes of Cargill at present, is the lock-up with Monsanto, for sweeping patent rights to corn, soybean and other seeds. Al Gore has been one of the most prominent defender of these agro-cartels. For example, in 1999, at the Davos World Economic Forum, Gore defended their seed control as their essential "intellectual property right."

The raids on Cargill and Bunge in Italy, are part of a recent pattern of anti-trust investigations in the European Union, e.g., in June, in the Netherlands, a division of Sara Lee Corp., and the giant Unilever, were raided in a probe on price-fixing of home detergents.

LaRouche Told You So: Weimar-Style Hyperinflation Is Here

July 16 (EIRNS)—With the release of the consumer inflation figures for June at 1.1%, year on year, it is evident that the United States is experiencing a double-digit inflation, spiking food and fuel prices skyward.

Europe, in general, and Britain, in particular, has been hit hard by hyperinflationary price rises. The UK's inflation of the monthly consumer price indexes which the central bank targets jumped from 3.3% in May to 3.8% in June. This is the highest month-to-month increase since the index began in 1996. In effect, overall, Britain is on the verge of experiencing a 40% annual consumer price index rise!

France's 12-month inflation reached 3.6% in June, year on year, the highest level since October 1990, marking a near 18-year peak, the official statistics institute, INSEE, told AFP on July 16.

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas in continental Europe is expected to double in the space of one year, due to the high oil prices, the Financial Times of London reported July 16.

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