The price of basic foodstuffs hit a record high in 2011, with the cost of cereals surging by more than a third over the last 12 months, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Thursday.
The FAO said that its monthly Food Price Index averaged 228 points in 2011, the highest level since records began in 1990, although prices did slide by some 2.4 percent in December. The previous high was in 2008 at 200 points.
The Rome-based organisation said that its cereal price index -- which includes the cost of rice, wheat and maize -- averaged 247 points in 2011, up some 35 percent from 2010 and the highest since the 1970s.
Meat prices in 2011 were 16 percent higher than in 2010 while dairy products such as milk and butter were on average 10 percent dearer, the FAO survey found.
The organisation said average prices were at their highest in February 2011 when the index hit 238 points.
December's downturn continued a trend which was driven "by sharp falls in international prices of cereals, sugar and oils due to bumper 2011 crops coupled with slowing demand and a stronger US dollar", it said.
Most commodities were affected. Maize prices fell six percent over the course of the month, wheat was down four percent and rice three percent lower.
Abdolreza Abbassian, a grains specialist for the FAO, said that it was difficult to make any firm prediction on price trends for the year ahead.
"International prices of many food commodities have declined in recent months but given the uncertainties over the global economy, currency and energy markets, unpredictable prospects lie ahead," Abbassian said.
High food prices are seen as one of the factors behind the popular uprisings in North Africa last year as well as the famine in parts of Somalia.