Global food prices reached new highs in February, a United Nations food agency said Thursday, warning that oil price spikes could provoke further increases.

Skyrocketing food prices have been among the triggers for protests in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere and raised fears of a repeat of the food price crises in 2007 and 2008. Global oil prices have spiked on concerns about the potential impact of supply disruptions from Libya.

The Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement from Rome that its food price index was up 2.2 per cent last month, the highest record in real and nominal terms since the agency started monitoring prices two decades ago.

It was also the eighth consecutive month that food prices had risen, the Rome-based agency said. In January, the index had already registered a peak.

The increase was driven mostly by higher prices of cereals, meat and dairy products, the FAO said. Sugar was the only commodity of the groups being monitored whose price hadn't risen.

"Unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets," said David Hallam, director of FAO's trade and market division. "This adds even more uncertainty concerning the price outlook just as plantings for crops in some of the major growing regions are about to start."

The index records changes monthly in international prices of a basket of food commodities, including cereal, oils and fats, and sugar.