WASHINGTON - August 21, 2008 - U.S. consumers should brace for the biggest increase in food prices in nearly 20 years in 2008 and even more pain next year due to surging meat and produce prices, the Agriculture Department said on Wednesday.
Food prices are forecast to rise by 5 percent to 6 percent this year, making it the largest annual increase since 1990. Just last month, USDA forecast food prices would climb between 4.5 and 5.5 percent in 2008.
"It's a little bit of a surprise how strong some of the numbers were in July," USDA economist Ephraim Leibtag, who prepared the forecast, said in an interview.
"We've been waiting for some moderation, but especially with some of the meat prices and how much has come through relatively recently (at the retail level) leads me to believe the overall number may be a little bit higher for the year," he added.
Leibtag said he expected food prices to moderate, but the timing depends on what happens to volatile energy and food ingredient costs.
Prices are expected to rise by 4 percent to 5 percent in 2009, lead by red meat and poultry. The forecast, if correct, would be the third straight year where food prices have surged at least 4 percent.