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China Says Food Price Jump Not From Shortages

China's surging food prices reflect international price rises and evolving domestic demand, senior agricultural officials said, denying risks of absolute shortages to feed a nation of over 1.3 billion.

Soaring prices for pork, grain, edible oil and other foods pushed consumer price inflation to 6.5 percent in October, back to a nearly 11-year high, stoking expectations of an interest rate rise as early as Friday.

But the farm officials told the official Xinhua news agency that production of key products was growing and consumers need not fear shortages, even if they were paying more to eat.

"To judge from grain and most other agricultural goods, the main cause of the price rises is not supply shortages," said Chen Mengshan, chief of the Ministry of Agriculture's crop division.

Chen cited international demand and price rises, as well as leaping costs of farm production inputs. "To some extent, market demand and changes in the consumption structure have also created price fluctuations," he added.

He and other officials said government measures to encourage bigger grain harvests and more edible oil and pork production would ensure that the overall volume of food production actually grew.

Food prices, which make up a third of China's consumer goods basket, rose 17.6 percent in the 12 months to October, compared with a 16.9 percent rise in the year to September. But China "can fully guarantee effective market supplies" of key foods, Chen said.

The official lecture on agricultural prices featured in state media and appeared to be the government's latest effort to calm consumers' jangled nerves about the price jumps.

During the weekend, three people died in a stampede at a store in southwestern China as shoppers scrambled for discounted cooking oil, a powerful lure for people juggling tight budgets.

China's State Council, or cabinet, said on Wednesday it would act "to stabilise price pressures" and called for more production of pigs, grain and dairy products.

Earlier this week, Premier Wen Jiabao also staged a walkabout in a Beijing neighbourhood, asking citizens about costs and assuring the country that the government is paying attention.