Things are getting rough here in the land of cheap food. Corn and soy — building blocks of the industrial-food system — are trading at or near all-time highs. And that’s rippling through the food chain, from feedlots and food factories to the supermarket shelf.

Here’s the latest:

[B]y next year, the price of a pound of chicken breast would climb to $2.63; beef round roast to $4.22, both up 10 percent. And the price of a pound of pork chop could be up to $4.78 — a 30 percent increase.

Some folks see opportunity for reform in this situation: As prices for industrially produced food rise, the playing field will level for more sustainably produced food. But then there’s another possibility: people will “trade down,” economize, look for the cheapest food possible, regardless of quality or sustainability concerns.

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On that note, from the consumer-trend spotter Euromonitor:

Troubled by a cloud of uncertainty, consumers in 2008 are filled with a sense of anxiety and gloom. To combat this, consumers are focusing on ways to stay financially stable during times of economic instability…. “With food, drinks and personal care products, the chances are that people will trade down particularly in areas that are less important to them.”

Meanwhile, though …

“Technology has been one of the areas where consumers have always been prepared to spend money. But with the economic slow down, growth may be limited to products that offer real benefits. Consumers will likely cut back in other areas in order to protect their spending on the next iPhone, computer or digital media player.

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