WASHINGTON – Food prices did not go up much in 2010 and should not increase much for the rest of the year. Next year, however, could be a different story. Ephraim Leibtag with the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service said weak pricing has been the rule for 2010.

“Prices did not go up that much for the first half of the year,” Leibtag said. “The last few months we’ve seen a little bit of a price increase, but overall for 2010 food prices are pretty tame. Probably about 1% increase overall for the year.”

Some food prices have gone up this year, most notably beef and pork. “Those products have been up quite a bit for the last three or four months and now year over year they’re both up over five percent, which is noticeable, certainly when you compare it to everything else that’s either flat or in some cases falling,” he added.

As for 2011, Leibtag said food prices should increase 2 to 3%. “That’s not too different from the historical norm,” he added. “The reason why we are moving in that upward direction in addition to optimism about a recovering economy is these underlying commodities such as wheat, soybeans and corn, milk and meat products, that at the commodity and wholesale level have begun to rise and that will put pressure in the next three to six months and that will put pressure on retail prices we well.”

While consumers see rising food prices as bad news, Leibtag says modest inflation indicates an improving economy.

“For consumers, if their employment prospects are improving, if job prospects are improving, if job prospects are getting better, the economy’s improving, then paying 1 or 2% more for food is a necessary outgrowth of that growing economy,” Leibtag said. “On the other side, producers are better off if there is a little bit more leeway to be able to pass on higher costs, so that’s what we kind of see for the upcoming year.”