CARGILL: Who’s to blame for surge in food prices around the world? Food-hoarding governments

BLOOMBERG: “Cargill Inc. Chief Executive Officer Greg Page, who runs the largest agricultural company in the U.S., has a good idea whom to blame for the global surge in food prices at the end of 2010: governments.

Page urged 708 delegates and guests at the National Grain and Feed Association convention in San Diego in March to take action, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue. He said government hoarding was the biggest contributor to the rise in prices, which had soared 15 percent from October through January and pushed 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank.

“Ill-timed, ill planned and really a beggar-thy-neighbor strategy,” Page, 59, said of moves by Russia and others to ban grain exports as droughts and floods helped send stockpiles to their lowest levels in two generations.

Page warned that further disruptions might ratchet up costs so much that governments would jump in with more regulations — not only on grain shipments but also on energy, trade and financial markets.

Cargill is a big fan of the private sector — and of privacy, period. Founded in 1865 by William Cargill, son of a Scottish sea captain, the agricultural-commodities giant is in its seventh generation of family ownership, a record unmatched by any other major U.S. firm.

Yet, Cargill has a huge hand in feeding the world. With 131,000 employees, it runs one of the country’s largest operations for converting corn into biofuels, as well as food for people and animals. It’s the No. 1 U.S. salt marketer and a top buyer and seller of cocoa and sugar. The No. 2 U.S. beef producer, Cargill can slice a cow 431 ways and fashion precise cuts so Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) doesn’t have to hire a butcher for every one of its shops.

In his San Diego speech, Page reiterated support for free- market policies, including limits on export bans, as the best way to feed people. That’s because willing buyers and sellers — not governments — negotiate prices.

[Read “Cargill Defines Food Chain While Assailing Government Hoarding” at bloomberg.com]

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