Letter to the Editor: Food prices are outrageous

My weekly foray into the
supermarket has become a bittersweet experience. Confusing my sense of taste
however, is not a sufficient deterrent as I still look forward to this Monday
morning excursion.

Why Monday? The atmosphere in the
supermarket is less hectic. Shoppers saunter down the aisles unhurriedly, stopping
here and there to check items not even on their list. The check-out lines are
shorter and the cashier are more inclined to pause long enough to respond to my
often repeated question “When did this item go up by 20 cents, I just bought it
for X last week. So my shopping on Mondays is a lot more relaxed than on the
weekends.

I have been seriously thinking of
doing a survey of the three major players in the retail food industry to
establish the true cost of basic food items to feed a family of four for the
week. My hesitation to do so stems purely from self preservation. I think I
would go into shock at the results.

Food prices worldwide are generally
on the increase. December increases reached crisis level. So said the Food and
Agricultural Organisation, which recorded a 25 per cent increase from a year
ago. Corn stocks are low and prices high. Demands are not being satisfied. Corn
is not only grown for food but is used to produce a volatile flammable liquid
called Ethanol. This product is added to gasoline, giving motorists a choice at
the pump.

Soya bean, now classed as oilseed
rather than a legume, is a low cost source of protein used in animal feed, soya
vegetable oil and vegetable protein products.

Corn is the largest US agricultural
crop followed by soybean.

I make mention of these two
commodities as they are ingredients in so many products that stock our
supermarket shelves.

It is inevitable then that we will
be digging deeper into our pockets to keep bread on the table.

To keep satisfying our nutritional
needs, we need to take a closer look at our locally grown products and insist
that they reflect the Farm gate prices, and not be elevated in cost because
they share the same space as imported foods.

I scan the colourful  advertisements each Thursday hoping that a
few of my regular purchases might appear. Alas, not to be. The advertised
specials do soften the blow, but my larder shelves are sagging from the weight
of the ubiquitous pasta and its accompanying sauces. And how much ketchup do
you have space for.

Come now. Give us some more variety
in the choice of sale items. Remember we have no place else to shop unless we
factor in the cost of an airline ticket.

Some pertinent questions come to
mind. Why do products from Jamaica (perishable and otherwise) have to take the
scenic route to Miami/Bahamas then be transhipped here? Jamaica is 210 nautical
miles and 45 minutes by air from here. I am sure the added miles translate into
added cost.

(Why are peppers (hot) $3 per pound
at the road side vendors but almost $10 per pound in the supermarket. Must be
the air conditioning!)

Operators of food outlets that
carry Jamaican products have resigned themselves to the present status quo i.e.
Place orders with the local importer. Wait for the items to make their
circuitous route. Then, pay the high required duties on arrival. I have been
reliably informed by a major shipping company that services Grand Cayman that
they have regular service that travels from Cayman to Miami, then down the Mona
passage to Jamaica and from there back to Grand Cayman. There is no shortage of
container space and the arrival schedules suggest a quick turn-a-round time.

The mark-up on these items reflect
the high transportation cost, which is passed on to us.

Major players in the food
distribution trade, give us a break. You certainly have no control over the
upward movement of world food prices but you definitely can have some influence
over the cost of locally produced items and other indigenous products coming
from our close island neighbours.

As I write this article, there is a
glut of tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce, melons and string beans in Jamaica. This
is brought on by farmers who aggressively got back into their fields after the
devastation of the torrential rains caused by Hurricane/Storm Nicole. The
oversupply has severally depressed prices. Here is a perfect opportunity for
importers to take advantage of this situation and pass on the reduced cost to
the consumers.

Chester Johnson