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UN expert slams biofuels for role in food crisis

Latest update : 2008-04-29

The United Nations' outspoken independent expert on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, told a conference in Bern that biofuels, as they are produced at present, constitute "a crime against a large part of humanity." (Story: M. McCarthy)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday held talks with key development agencies on how to tackle the crisis provoked by soaring food and fuel prices.
"This is an exciting time for the United Nations, but it is also a time when we are challenged to exert our best efforts to rise to the expectations that the world is placing on us," Ban said ahead of meetings in the Swiss capital.
The United Nations was to hammer out a battle plan of emergency measures at the two-day conference in Berne, while exploring other longer-term measures to solve the global food crisis.
The talks were expected to see advocates of protectionism face off against those who favour opening up markets, as well as arguments between both supporters and opponents of biofuels.
Rising populations, strong demand from developing countries, increased cultivation of crops for biofuels and increasing floods and droughts have sent food prices soaring across the globe.
Ban met first with officials from the Universal Postal Union before holding main talks with 27 key UN agencies.
Also in Berne were Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN's World Food Programme; World Bank President Robert Zoellick; Jacques Diouf, head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO); and Lennart Baage, president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).
"I would like to thank you for your hospitality and your active support of the United Nations," Ban told Swiss President Pascal Couchepin at a reception in the Swiss parliament.
Despite hosting the European headquarters of the organisation, Switzerland did not formally join the United Nations until 2002 after a hotly-contested popular referendum.
Couchepin assured Ban he could count on continued Swiss support and participation in UN activities for "many years to come".
Ban was expected to issue a statement and hold a press conference on Tuesday at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT).
In a statement on IFAD's website, Baage said the international community needed to come up with an urgent response to the crisis, warning that the parallel threat of climate change would only heighten the risks for the world's poor.
"Responding effectively to the impact of higher food prices must be a top priority for the global community," he said.
But he criticised protectionist measures by developing countries such as Brazil, Egypt and Ghana, saying they would prove counter-effective in the long run.
"Some of these measures ... have not only contributed to the instability on global markets, but have also undermined the prices that producers are able to realise," Baage said.
Instead he hailed moves by countries such as Yemen and China, who have promoted credit facilities for those hardest hit by rising prices, and subsidies for production in Pakistan, the Philippines and Jordan.
Besides seeing Couchepin, Ban met Monday evening with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to discuss development issues, climate change and the current food crisis.
In Geneva, the United Nations' outspoken independent expert on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said the meeting on Monday marked "an essential day for hungry people around the world."
Ziegler, who is from Switzerland, criticised the World Trade Organisation's trade liberalisation talks, saying that they worked against those who are dying from hunger.
"The line taken by Pascal Lamy (director general of the WTO) is completely against the interests of people dying of hunger because it's exactly the protectionist taxes that allow farmers to cultivate food crops," he said.
Ziegler also called for a suspension of biofuels which he said are one of the causes of the sharp increase in food prices.
His call was echoed by international development charity Oxfam which on Monday called for an end to the biofuels mandates in rich countries.
Celine Charveriat, Oxfam International's deputy advocacy director said: "Biofuels are not only a major cause of increasing prices but are also linked to labour rights abuses and land grabs in developing countries.
"Furthermore, research suggests they may make climate change worse. In this context it is absolute madness to have mandatory targets."

Date created : 2008-04-29