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Climate change could reduce food supply, report says

Severe drought is a contributing factor in the declining cattle count, which has sent wholesale beef prices up.
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Severe drought is a contributing factor in the declining cattle count, which has sent wholesale beef prices up.

Climate change could hit our stomachs and our wallets, cutting into the growth in food production even as the world's population increases, according to a new bipartisan report.

The report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs predicts that global food production growth could be reduced by 2 percent each decade for the next century if nothing is done. That's because of changes in rainfall patterns, higher temperatures and more frequent natural disasters, according to the report.

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"Climate change, and what's going on with our weather, is really putting our food supply at risk," said Lisa Moon, vice president for global agriculture and food at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "What that means for Americans, if we don't do anything about it, is higher food prices on the horizon."

In other countries, Moon said the effects could be even more grim, especially as a growing population continues to create more demand for food. In some developing countries, that could lead to temporary or more permanent situations where not enough food is available for everyone.

"I think that the reality is food shortages," Moon said.

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Americans currently spend a smaller portion of their overall budget on food than almost anywhere else in the world, thanks to factors including a bountiful agriculture industry and intensely competitive retailers.

Nevertheless, experts say that Americans do tend to adjust their spending habits when food prices rise. There are signs that's happening now, as Americans respond to record-high beef prices by trading out for less expensive cuts or proteins, such as chicken.

Overall grocery prices are expected to rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The Chicago Council's bipartisan initiative makes a number of recommendations for addressing climate change as it relates to the food supply. They include making food security a higher priority in economic and foreign policy, and increasing agricultural research on how to adapt for and mitigate the effects of climate change.

"We're hoping that (the report) generates some momentum to have better data collection, get better information on what is happening and put some muscle behind the research on this topic," Moon said.

— By CNBC's Allison Linn

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