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Food prices rise at fastest pace in 41 years

The food inflation rate is up for the ninth month in a row and now matches the U.S. inflation rate of 7.9% a year, with double-digit increases in the price of meat, milk, and fresh fruit, said the government on Thursday. Prices for groceries rose even faster, 8.6%, than the overall food index, which includes food sold at restaurants, fast-food outlets, and company cafeterias.

“The all items index rose 7.9% for the 12 months ending in February … the largest since the period ending January 1982,” said the Labor Department in its monthly Consumer Price Index report. “The food index increased 7.9%, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending July 1981.”

“I know that higher prices impact a family’s budget,” said President Biden, “which is why I am fighting to bring down the everyday prices that are squeezing Americans.” Biden, referring to Russian president Vladimir “Putin’s price hike,” said that “a large contributor to inflation this month was an increase in gas and energy prices as markets reacted to Putin’s aggressive actions” in invading Ukraine.

Gasoline accounted for almost one-third of inflation in February. The food index increased by 1% during the month, the largest one-month increase since April 2020. “All six major grocery store food indexes increased in February, with the largest increase in fruit and vegetables, up 2.3%,” said the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the past 12 months, gasoline prices soared 38%.

“When costs go up for farmers and ranchers, it’s a bad day for rural America. It’s a bad day for everybody who works so hard to purchase the food they need,” said Sen. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican. “This is a national emergency.”

Americans are consuming record amounts of meat — an estimated 224.8 pounds per person — despite stout increases in prices, which are up 14% in the past year. Beef roasts are up by 18.6% and bacon by 18.8%. The price of fresh whole milk is up 12.4% and citrus fruit is up 16.2%.

The U.S. average price for a pound of ground beef was $4.25 in February 2021 and $4.63 last month, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A gallon of fresh milk sold for an average of $3.79 last month, an increase of 42¢ in a year.

Price increases for food and energy will affect what Americans pay for staples in the months ahead, said Axios. “Given shifts in commodity markets, it’s pretty much a mathematical certainty that inflation rates will be higher in the months ahead rather than lower.”

The CPI report is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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