Indian minister blames US for soaring global food prices
Friday, 28 March 2008

HTML clipboardAgence France-Presse . Singapore

Indian finance minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday criticised countries like the US for diverting farm products to produce biofuels, saying this had led to soaring global food prices.

While growing demand was one reason for skyrocketing food prices, the use of agricultural products to make biofuels was another cause, he told a public lecture organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School Public Policy in Singapore.

‘It has been estimated that nearly 20 per cent of corn grown in the United States is diverted for producing biofuels,’ he said in his speech to academics, students and diplomats.

‘As citizens of the world, we ought to be concerned about the foolishness of growing food and diverting it into fuel.’ Chidambaram slammed the ‘lopsided priorities of certain countries’ that produce fuel at a cheaper cost to meet the transport needs of a certain section of their population even if it leads to higher food prices elsewhere.

The price of many food commodities has soared worldwide to record levels over the last year due to booming demand in fast-growing Asian countries as well as the increased use of biofuels. Present-generation biofuels are derived from food crops such as corn, sugar cane and soybeans.

Biofuels were initially viewed as an environmentally-friendly alternative with no geopolitical risk compared with dirty fossil fuels, but they are now under attack as some unintended consequences emerge.

Speaking at a forum after his speech, the Indian finance chief said countries producing large quantities of food should sell it to the rest of the world at reasonable prices.

‘But a very insular selfish approach encourages them to convert food into fuel. I think it is the most foolish thing that humanity can do,’ he said. ‘There are non-food items that can be produced to make biofuels... To convert corn to fuel... I think it’s outrageous and it must be condemned.’ Chidambaram, who spoke on the challenge of sustaining economic growth amid global uncertainty, said the relentless rise in food and commodity prices have put an ‘enormous problem’ on developing countries.

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