Shelly-Ann Thompson, Staff Reporter
SALES OF canned foods and low-cost protein-based meals have increased in the last few weeks, amid spiralling prices, according to recent data provided by some of the island's largest food-distribution chains. At the same time, the nutrition unit of the ministry of health and environment has expressed concern over an increase in the sale of condensed milk as a replacement for powdered and fresh milk.
The rising cost of oil and the resultant growing demand for corn and wheat as sources of biofuel has pushed up the price of many food items globally. As a consequence, the nation's food-import bill continues to increase.
Food-import bill up
Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) show that the country's food-import bill increased from US$479 million in 2002 to US$662 million as at November 2007. About 61 per cent of the country's basic food items are imported.
Main staples, like flour, have recorded more than a 30 per cent movement in price since April 1, following the end of the Govern-ment's three-month price support programme. Another staple, chicken meat, has been selling for about $120 per pound, following several price hikes over the last four months. Consumers seem to be searching for cheaper substitutes for their regular grocery items.
Convenience foods sales up
Michael Melnavis, sales manager at Musson Jamaica Limited, tells The Sunday Gleaner that since about October, there has been a spike in the sale of traditional convenience foods such as tinned mackerel, sardines and sausages. Musson, also owners of food-distribution giants Facey Commodity, and T. Geddes Grant, supplies a variety of food items to supermarkets and grocery shops islandwide.
"No doubt, this increase is correlated with what is happening in relation to price increases in recent weeks," suggests Melnavis.
Charmaine Edwards, director of the nutrition unit in the health ministry, fears a rise in the protein-deficiency condition, kwashiorkor, because it appears children in the Corporate Area and St James have been consuming the less protein-rich powdered milk instead of the fresh or condensed version.
Kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that affects mainly children in the age group one to four years old, but can also affect older children and adults. The '2006 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions' shows that currently, about 4.3 per cent of children are undernourished.
"I am very concerned. The sad thing is people don't seem to realise the negative impact this will have on them when they eliminate nutritious foods from their diets," laments Edwards.