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Priciest Food Since 1970s Is a Big Challenge for Governments

From handouts to trade rules, politicians are looking for ways to neuter the effect of surging costs.

A demonstrator holds government subsidized bread during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 2.

A demonstrator holds government subsidized bread during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 2.

Photographer: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg

Whether for bread, rice or tortillas, governments across the world know that rising food costs can come with a political price. The dilemma is whether they can do enough to prevent having to pay it.

Global food prices were up 33% in August from a year earlier with vegetable oil, grains and meat on the rise, data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show. And it’s not likely to get better as extreme weather, soaring freight and fertilizer costs, shipping bottlenecks and labor shortages compound the problem. Dwindling foreign currency reserves are also hampering the ability of some nations to import food.