UN Urges Removal Of Food Export Bans

ROME -- The United Nations urged a summit on the global food crisis Tuesday to lower trade barriers and remove export bans to help stop the spread of hunger threatening nearly 1 billion people.

"Nothing is more degrading than hunger, especially when man-made," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders who are likely to disagree over the link between biofuel production and high food prices.

The head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, which is hosting the summit, said wealthy nations had been spending billions of dollars on farm subsidies, wasteful and excess consumption of food, and on arms.

"The excess consumption by the world's obese costs $20 billion annually, to which must be added indirect costs of $100 billion resulting from premature death and related diseases," said FAO Director General Jacques Diouf, who is from Senegal.

The World Bank and aid agencies estimate soaring food prices could push as many as 100 million more people into hunger. About 850 million are already hungry.

Ban estimated the "global price tag" to overcome the food crisis would be $15 billion to $20 billion a year and that food supply had to rise 50 percent by the year 2030 to meet climbing demand.

"Some countries have taken action by limiting exports or by imposing draft controls," he said. This "distorts markets and forces prices even higher. I call on nations to resist such measures and to immediately release exports designated for humanitarian purposes."

Aid agencies say Japan and China have contributed to high rice prices, which have triggered riots as far away as Haiti, by controlling their stocks. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda promised to release at least 300,000 tons of imported rice.

The Rome summit will set the tone on food aid and subsidies for the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July and what is regarded as the concluding stages of the stalled talks under the World Trade Organization aimed at reducing trade distortions.

A British minister urged the European Union to help reduce prices by reforming farm policies that cost consumers more than 40 billion euros ($62.4 billion) a year and suspending some food import tariffs.

"I do not see how Europe can justify keeping EU prices so much higher than world market levels at a time when people across Europe are really feeling the pinch," said Treasury minister Yvette Cooper.

The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with rice, corn and wheat at record highs. This has provoked protests and riots in some developing countries where people may spend more than half their income on food.

A distraction from food at the summit was the presence of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his first trip to the European Union. Critics accuse both of contributing to food shortages at home.

Italian Jews protested against the Iranian leader's comments that Israel would disappear, chanting "Israel, Israel, Israel" on a hill by the ancient Roman Circus Maximus, near the summit.