by Tom Bawden | The Independent
Outrage as bank revealed to be major speculator while millions face starvation
Barclays has made as much as half a billion pounds in two years from speculating on food staples such as wheat and soya, prompting allegations that banks are profiting handsomely from the global food crisis.
Barclays is the UK bank with the greatest involvement in food commodity trading and is one of the three biggest global players, along with the US banking giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, research from the World Development Movement points out.
Last week the trading giant Glencore was attacked for describing the global food crisis and price rises as a “good” business opportunity.
The extent of Barclays’ involvement in food speculation comes to light as new figures from the World Bank show that global food prices hit an all-time high in July, with poor harvests in the US and Russia pushing up the average worldwide cost of staples by an unprecedented 10 per cent in a month.
The extent of just one bank’s involvement in agricultural markets will add to concerns that food speculation could help push basic prices so high that they trigger a wave of riots in the world’s poorest countries, as staples drift out of their populations’ reach.
Nor has the UK escaped rising food costs. Shop food prices have risen, on average, by 37.9 per cent in the past seven years, according to the Office for National Statistics, as the demands of an increasingly affluent and growing world population strain supply. Oils and fats have soared by 63 per cent in the UK during that period, fish prices by 50.9 per cent, bread and cereals by 36.7 per cent, meat 34.5 per cent and vegetables 41.3 per cent. In April, average UK food prices were 4.2 per cent higher than a year earlier.
Oxfam’s private sector adviser, Rob Nash, said: “The food market is becoming a playground for investors rather than a market place for farmers. The trend of big investors betting on food prices is transforming food into a financial asset while exacerbating the risk of price spikes that hit the poor hardest.”
The World Development Movement report estimates that Barclays made as much as £529m from its “food speculative activities” in 2010 and 2011. Barclays made up to £340m from food speculation in 2010, as the prices of agricultural commodities such as corn, wheat and soya were rising. The following year, the bank made a smaller sum – of up to £189m – as prices fell, WDM said.