EU warns of end to cheap food and looming global crisis

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food prices European union

EU development commissioner Louis Michel has warned that the days
of "cheap food are over" and that the world faces a major food
crisis unless there is a global response to higher prices.

Speaking during the European Parliament debate on food prices in Strasbourg earlier this week, Michel said that there was a global crisis brewing. "It might be less visible than the energy crisis but it could have devastating economic and humanitarian effects, especially in Africa,"​ said. MEPs were united in their calls for an urgent global response to rising food costs, which they said were caused by climate change, a lack of supply, higher demand and consumption and record oil prices. Blame pointed at biofuel production ​ But they also blamed an increase in biofuel production for part of the increase, since growing crops for fuel is more profitable than planting food crops. The UN has called for a five-year moratorium on biofuels - a move welcomed by some MEPs. Several EU countries, such as the UK, have already agreed to rethink their biofuels policies, although Brussels continues to maintain its target of increasing the use of plant-based fuels by 10 per cent by 2020, arguing that their impact on global food prices is still only minimal and warning against a knee-jerk reaction. European target tackles climate change ​ The European commission's target was set in February as part of a wide-ranging programme of measures designed to tackle climate change. But most MEPs said that speculation was the chief villain when it came to rising prices, arguing that investors have moved from oil to commodities. This was artificially inflating prices in order to make bigger profits and constituted "playing with people's lives",​ according to one senior deputy. "We should not allow the financial system to contribute to hunger,"​ added another. Global food prices rise 45 per cent in nine months​ World food prices have risen 45 per cent in the last nine months, MEPs heard, and there are serious shortages of rice, wheat and maize. Commissioner Michel also told MEPs that the EU had increased its food aid by nearly €120m as a direct response to the current crisis. "The rise in basic food prices is a worldwide humanitarian disaster in the making. Addressing the food price issue is a global challenge requiring long-term solutions but the emergency is now. We have an obligation to act - and act quickly,"​ he said. The increase takes Europe's total humanitarian food aid budget so far in 2008 to €283.25m.

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