World hit by high costs, Canada fares better than most

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The weight of rising food and energy costs is bearing down heavily on a significant proportion of the global population, hitting them hard at the pumps and dinner table, according to a new poll.

But with regards to the impact of food prices, Canada appears to fare better than most of the other 25 countries participating in the poll commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service.

Findings reveal that with the exception of China, a majority of those surveyed in each country reported being negatively affected by rising costs of food, fuel and electricity costs.

Sixty per cent of people said they have been affected "a great deal" by high food and energy prices.

Not surprisingly, Canada along with other developed nations including Australia, Germany and the U.K., registered comparatively low percentages among those who said rising food costs had affected them.

Among Canadians surveyed, 27 per cent said they were affected "a great deal" – the smallest percentage of all the countries.

Meanwhile, those in developing nations were among the hardest hit, with many even reporting cutting back on what they eat because of high food costs. Some 63 per cent in the Philippines and Panama and 61 per cent in Kenya reported eating less.

What's more, nearly half of those polled said higher costs of food were causing them to change their diet, especially in developing countries.

Seventy-one per cent in Panama, 67 per cent in Egypt and 64 per cent in Kenya said they had changed what they eat. Only 24 per cent of Canadians who were surveyed said they had eaten less overall, and 36 per cent reported changing what they eat.

The surveys were mainly conducted in July and August, a period when commodity prices weren't rising any more, but ripple effects were still being felt in households because of higher food prices in the different countries, said Doug Miller, chairman of GlobeScan Incorporated in London.

"This research shows that people around the world are being deeply affected, but particularly people earning the least in some of the poorest countries are being deeply affected by rising food and energy crises," said Miler, whose company conducted the survey.

"Governments would be very ill-advised to lose sight of the need to address the daily commodity needs of their citizens at the household level, even in the midst of the financial crisis."

The sharp rise and strength of the loonie relative to the U.S. dollar in the lead-up to the survey was likely a factor in why Canada fared better than other countries, said Adam Finn, acting chair in the department of marketing, business economics and law at the University of Alberta.

"I think it was primarily the change in the dollar value that cushioned Canadians from having to really change their lifestyle as much as they might have had to do," he said.

"In the last couple of months, the Canadian dollar has actually tumbled, so maybe we'll see some of the effects come through. Of course, the commodity prices have also dropped back significantly."

Another factor is that people in developing nations spend a higher proportion of income on food and, to some extent energy, relative to Canada, Finn said.

"Even if it increases, it doesn't change their lifestyle as much as in a country where people are spending 50 per cent of their income on food just to get by even prior to these changes," he said.

"Of course, if food prices go up, they're much more severely influenced."

While the majority of Canadians weren't affected as much by high food costs, energy was a different story.

Some 42 per cent said that rising energy costs had affected them a great deal, much closer to the average of all countries surveyed.

However, Miller noted it wasn't as serious an issue as it is in Egypt, for instance, where a whopping 93 per cent reported being affected a great deal by high energy prices.

Sample size for the poll was 27,319 adults from 26 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.


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