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Will Copper-Stealing Meth Heads Jack Up the Price of Your Almonds?

In today’s New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer writes about California farmers whose irrigation systems are being stripped of their copper wiring, presumably by methamphetamine addicts who sell the metal in the recycling market:

Theft of scrap metal, mostly copper, has vexed many areas of American life and industry for the last 18 months, fueled largely by record-level prices for copper resulting from a building boom in Asia. … Thieves have stripped the wires out of phone lines, pulled plaques off cemetery plots, raided air-conditioning systems in schools and yanked catalytic converters from cars, all to be resold to scrap metal recyclers. … But perhaps no group has been as been as consistently singled out as California farmers.

The article is uniformly interesting, even though there seems to be little hard evidence that a) it’s really meth heads who are primarily doing the stealing; and b) that farmers are really the hardest-hit group of victims. But it does make sense that farms are more vulnerable to this kind of theft than, say, construction sites, which probably have a lot more security on average.

So if the price of almonds, tomatoes, melons, and pistachios starts to climb in the coming months, remember: it was the Chinese building boom that fueled the demand for copper that led the meth addicts (maybe) to cripple the irrigation systems that damaged the crops that drove down the supply, which led to higher prices in the supermarket. Or, the shorter version: when in doubt, blame the Chinese.