Washington: US President George W. Bush urged lawmakers 1 May to approve $770 million in new aid to cope with soaring food prices that have left many hungry and fueled angry protests around the world.
“With the new international funding I’m announcing today, we’re sending a clear message to the world that America will lead the fight against hunger for years to come,” he said in a hastily called public appearance.
Warning that “more needs to be done,” Bush said the monies would be in addition to another $200 million the White House freed up earlier this month and urged the US Congress to act “as soon as possible.”
“In some of the world’s poorest nations, rising prices can mean the difference between getting a daily meal and going without food,” he said, as millions of workers around the world made soaring food prices their May Day battle cry.
“The American people are generous people and compassionate people. We believe in the timeless truth, to whom much is given, much is expected,” said the US president.
Experts blame soaring prices on a confluence of factors, including trade restrictions; increased demand from a changing diet in Asia; poor growing weather; rising use of biofuels that rely on staples like corn; and soaring fuel prices that make transporting foodstuffs more expensive.
The World Bank said last month that a doubling of food prices over the past three years could push 100 million people in poorer developing countries further into poverty.
The Bank, which launched a “New Deal” to fight hunger, estimated that 33 countries were threatened with political and social unrest because of the skyrocketing costs of food and energy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged in a statement that lawmakers “will respond rapidly to the growing urgent need for international food assistance,” though she did not explicitly mention Bush’s request.
In the United States, rising food costs have piled on top of other woes battering the world’s richest economy, including skyrocketing gasoline prices and a jump in housing foreclosures amid a mortgage crisis.
On Thursday experts told a Congressional panel that US consumers are being hammered by record fuel costs and the steepest food price spikes in 17 years, sparking “recession diets” of less fresh meat and fish and more low-cost pasta and canned foods.
More Americans are also being pushed to to seek help at food banks, they said.
“At home, we are working to ensure that the neediest among us can cope with the rising food prices,” Bush said, citing gradual increases in government aid since he took office in 2001 and emergency bumps this year.
The new monies are in a $70-billion spending measure that includes funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was sent to Congress on Thursday.
Bush said the United States was on track to spend nearly five billion dollars in 2008 and 2009 to battle global hunger, and stressed that other wealthy countries needed to step up their contributions to the fight.
He also emphasized the importance of concluding the so-called Doha Round of global free trade talks -- which have stalled amid disputes over commodities -- saying that lowering barriers would make food cheaper.
Bush also pressed countries to remove any barriers to crops produced through biotechnology, saying: “These crops are safe, they’re resistant to drought and disease, and they hold the promise of producing more food for more people.”
His remarks came two days after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ordered a top level task force to take on the global crisis caused by rising food prices and urged key producer nations to end export bans, during a meeting in Bern, Switzerland of the heads of 27 key international agencies.
The World Food Program had estimated it needed $3.1 billion to feed the world hungry in 2008, but has asked for an extra 755 million due to the sharp jump in food prices.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has requested $1.7 billion to boost farming in the hungriest nations, as world food stocks dropped to their lowest level since 1980.