ROME – Food prices in March were mostly unchanged from February levels, according to the FAO Food Price Index. The index averaged 216 points in March compared to 215 in February.

The FAO Meat Price Index advanced to 178 points in March on increasing beef prices. Pork and sheep meat prices changed little, while poultry prices were weaker due to decreasing import demand and generally ample export supplies, FAO said. On average, meat prices in the first quarter were 3.5 percent higher compared to 2011.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 227 points in March, and increase of 1 point, according to FAO. Corn prices registered some gains. Low inventories and a strong soybean market supported prices, but wheat changed little on ample supplies, FAO said. After several months of declines, rice prices were slightly stronger in March, underpinned by large purchases by China and Nigeria.

The Dairy Price Index retreated 5 points to 197 in March, a decline of 2.5 percent from February. This was the lowest level since August 2010, FAO said. All the dairy products showed weakness in March, especially butter as well as skim milk powder and casein. Since reaching record levels in March 2011, dairy prices have followed a downward trend, as supplies rose in Oceania, Europe and North America, according to FAO. As a result, prices in the first quarter were 12 percent lower in 2012 compared to 2011.