Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 13:23 UK

French push for EU food response

Demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 7 April 2008
French ministers fear the scenes in Haiti could be repeated elsewhere

France is urging EU countries to come up with a global initiative on food security in the wake of violence linked to price rises in basic foodstuffs.

Agriculture minister Michel Barnier said Europe could not remain passive and leave the situation to the markets.

As he spoke, UN special rapporteur Jean Ziegler accused the EU of agricultural dumping in Africa.

He said producing biofuels, a key part of the EU's plans to tackle climate change, was a "crime against humanity".

We cannot, and we must not leave food for people... to the mercy of the rule of the market alone and to international speculation
Michel Barnier
French agriculture minister
The European Union has set a target of providing 10% of its fuel for transport from biofuels by 2020, which its own environment advisers have said should be suspended.

There are fears that the use of farmland to grow crops for biofuels has reduced the scope for food production.

The European Commission said on Monday that there was no question at the moment of the target being dropped, as work was currently under way to implement it in a sustainable way.

According to a spokesman, less than 2% of EU cereal production is currently used for biofuels.

'Humanitarian tsunami'

The EU is well aware of the risks of soaring food prices and, only last week, Development Commissioner Louis Michel warned of the crisis leading to a "humanitarian tsunami" in Africa.

France will take over the presidency of the EU in July and, in a statement on Friday, four ministers made it clear that the violent response to price rises in Haiti could easily be replicated in 30 other countries.

Protests because of a big increase in the cost of rice have led to a number of deaths in Haiti as well as the fall of the government.

Mr Barnier told French radio on Monday: "We cannot, and we must not leave food for people... to the mercy of the rule of the market alone and to international speculation."

He is proposing four ideas:

  • Production of more and better food to enable Europe to respond to the food challenge
  • To bring together the efforts of various member states to help developing countries rebuild their agriculture
  • To redirect public development aid towards the agriculture sector
  • To ensure that poorer countries do not become the victims of the World Trade Organization's Doha round of negotations.

Last week, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, whose country holds the presidency of the G8 industrialised nations, calling for a "fully co-ordinated response".

He proposed urgent short-term action to tackle immediate hardship and a medium-term response in trade and agriculture.

Dumping claim

The UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, told German radio that the EU financed the exports of European agricultural surpluses to Africa, "where they are offered at one-half or one-third of their (production) price".

But a European Commission spokesman said it was an old argument that simply was not true anymore.

He said that initial reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy had done away with the link between production and subsidy and further changes would free farmers to respond better to the market.

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