US wholesale retailers Costco and Sam’s Club have started to restrict sales of rice as concerns of global supplies mount.

Fears of a looming rice shortage have grown in recent weeks with prices hitting record highs and major rice-producing nations introducing export restrictions.

Prices have risen by more than 70% this year due to increasing demand in countries like India and China and below-average crop yields.

Over the past three months, US wholesalers have experienced a rise in demand for staples like wheat, rice and milk as businesses stock up to protect themselves against rising prices.

The moves have led Wal-Mart’s wholesale unit Sam’s Club to limit consumers to four bags per visit of imported jasmine, basmati and long-grain rice.

Meanwhile, Costco, the largest warehouse distributor in the US, has put purchase limits on 20-pound bags of rice at some of its stores.

The move by Sam’s Club and Costco represents the first time food rationing has been introduced to the US.

However, the US Rice Federation told just-food today (24 April) that it does not believe there is a rice shortage.

“There are some customers – particularly small businesses – who we believe are bulk buying rice to avoid increasing prices,” a spokesperson said. “This is creating a situation where demand has sharply increased as people are hoarding food.”