High food prices are likely to persist in the foreseeable future despite record production output, the UN said today (22 May).

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) made the predicition in its latest Food Outlook report.

“There are a number of factors at play in keeping food prices at record highs,” FAO spokesperson John Riddle told just-food this afternoon. “These range from the increased use of food crops for biofuels to weather problems – for example we have just lost the rice crop in Myanmar. We have also seen increased demand from places like China, India and Thailand. All of this is working to keep prices up.”

The FAO’s latest forecast for world cereal production in 2008 shows global production of 2192m tonnes, up 3.8% from 2007.

However, the FAO said that despite a good production outlook for the coming year, international commodity prices are unlikely to return to previous low levels. Instead they are predicted to stabilise or ease slightly, the Food Outlook reported. 

The FAO food price index has remained stable since February, but the average of the first four months of 2008 is still 53% higher when compared to the same period a year ago.

The FAO warned that high food prices were likely to hit the world’s most vulnerable populations hardest.

“Food is no longer the cheap commodity that it once was. Rising food prices are bound to worsen the already unacceptable level of food deprivation suffered by 854m people,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem. “We are facing the risk that the number of hungry will increase by many more millions of people.”