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Ukrainian wheat field by Polina Rytova / @polina_art via Unsplash
Ukrainian wheat field by Polina Rytova / @polina_art via Unsplash

At a press conference following a G7 meeting Thursday, President Biden referenced coming food shortages. Responding to a reporter's question, he said: "Yes we did talk about food shortages. And it's going to be real." He also referenced the impact of sanctions and the role of Russia and Ukraine as a the "breadbasket of Europe."

The President went on to suggest that the United States and Canada -- two of the world's biggest wheat producers -- would be assessing how they can mitigate the shortages other countries face. And the G7 discussed how to dissuade countries from imposing restrictions on exporting food.

Earlier in the press conference Biden said that the U.S. was "coordinating with the G7 and the European Union on food security, as well as energy security."

Tucker Carlson Gets It Wrong

The next night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson replayed some of Biden's comments and claimed that food shortages Biden was talking about were not going to occur overseas, but right here, in the United States.

Granted, this isn't a New Hampshire subject. But we decided to share it here, for readers who are interested in the topic. The Connecticut River Valley is a fertile agricultural zone and the entire state has numerous options for residents to buy produce, meat, and dairy products directly from farms.

Here's what Carlson told an audience of millions: "Once again, in case you missed it, to repeat, 'food shortages.' Not in Sudan! In Cinncinnati, in Reno, in Spokane, in Norfolk and of course in our big cities too, where not a single person born here has an idea of what a food shortage is. Our problem's always been having too much food. Now we won't have enough. We know that because the President of the United States just told us that on camera."

Unfortunately, Carlson was not the only broadcast that got this story wrong. Another Fox News show, "The Five," also seemed confused on the topic..

While it's true that the President has a tendency to be unclear in off-the-cuff remarks, anyone who's been following the Russia-Ukraine war would know better that to interpret Biden's statements in this way.

After all, imminent food shortages in countries like Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt have been discussed since the inception of the conflict. So has the impact of price surges in wheat, sunflower oil, and other staples.

Addressing Grain Shortages

Biden was responding to a two-part question from a reporter, which included this: "And secondly, can you say whether this — the conversation today turned to the subject of food shortages, and what the U.S. will do to address wheat shortages, in particular, as a result of this war?"

As we mentioned, the U.S. and other countries in the G7 are working together to address the shortfall that countries dependent on Russia/Ukraine exports will experience.

There have been many articles forecasting global hunger issues as a result of the war. Some expect tens of millions to be affected. For example, Sudan imports over 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Other nations rimming the eastern Mediterranean are at risk as well of not only hunger, but also social unrest.

With blockades in the Black Sea and the difficulty of Ukrainian farmers doing field work during the war, Ukraine's 2022 (and 2023) harvests are a big question mark. Ukraine has also frozen future exports to prioritize feeding its own citizens given the devastation wrought by the war.

Furthermore, Russia has imposed export bans in retaliation to sanctions. Russia is also banning grain exports to former Soviet countries.

Bloomberg Stumbles Too

Unfortunately, Bloomberg didn't fare much better when it published this story: "White House Banks on ‘Price Signals’ to Avert Food Shortage."

The first line of the story reads: "U.S. farmers will respond to 'price signals' and increase their production to avert any domestic food shortage stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House’s chief economist said Monday."

Farmers of course are always responding to price signals. The problem with the sentence is:

  1. War-based food shortages are afflicting other countries - not the U.S.
  2. The White House's chief economist did not say that that US would face shortages - she said the opposite.
  3. And she did not say that farmers would grow more wheat to avert domestic shortages.

The Bloomberg story is based on a press conference that featured economist Celia Rouse. During the press conference she made clear that higher energy and fertilizer prices are expected to increase food prices in the U.S., but, "we don't expect a shortage here because we are net exporters."

She added, "we are acutely aware of the fact that there are regions that depend heavily on exports of wheat, in particular, and other grains from Ukraine and Russia. And we're working with our partners to ensure - to minimize the impacts globally."

Her comments about price signals were generic in nature and given in response to a reporter's question about whether US farmers "should grow more wheat instead of corn and soybeans . . ."

Agricultural Headwinds

To be sure, agriculture is facing headwinds, including:

  • Higher fertilizer prices due to the energy crisis and supply disruptions (e.g., sanctions on Belarus)
  • Increasing natural gas costs (used for example, in grain drying and fertilizer production)
  • Food and energy inflation which were problems before the Russia-Ukraine war
  • Brazil and Argentina's drought: which will lead some countries to source crops from the US instead
  • Reduced wheat production in 2021 in Canada (down 36%) and the US northern plains (down 44%) due to drought (Source: Gro Intelligence's data platform)
  • Rising freight prices
  • China's increased need for wheat and other food staples

In sum

While food inflation is hitting all families hard, there remains a chasm between the poor in developing countries — some of whom live on diminishing rations of bread and oil — and Americans who still have an abundance of food (and food programs) to choose from.

Indeed the U.S. produces far in excess of 100% of its food needs. That's why we exported over $170 billion in food last year.

While Biden's remarks were not as clear as they could've been, broadcasters should take care to provide context, determine meaning, and vet facts.

Leaping to absurd conclusions can create anxiety and even fuel panic buying.

Not surprisingly the American prepper community is now producing YouTube videos about how food shortages are coming to the U.S. - because "Biden said so."

As the saying goes, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."


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