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Alarm mounts over a global food crisis

With riots over food prices erupting around the globe, the United Nations this week said that the world was on the brink of a

With riots over food prices erupting around the globe, the United Nations this week said that the world was on the brink of a “rapidly escalating crisis of food availability.” The crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon told finance and development ministers who were gathered in Washington, D.C., could lead to widespread starvation and topple governments. Officials cited a “perfect storm” of forces contributing to the crisis, including the growing appetite of India’s and China’s rising middle classes and the diversion of U.S. corn crops to ethanol production. In response to a U.N. plea for emergency food aid, President Bush pledged $200 million; the European Union committed $250 million.

In Haiti, Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis was ousted after six people died during two weeks of food rioting. Some poor Haitians have resorted to eating “cookies” made from dirt, vegetable oil, and salt. In Egypt, Vietnam, and several African states, governments scrambled to quell unrest over rising prices for grains, cooking oil, and other staples.

This isn’t just a humanitarian crisis, said the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. Food is a security issue, too. “When people are starving, governments destabilize, people fight for dwindling resources, and refugee populations explode.” Concerted action is needed “to avert an international disaster of widespread starvation and violence.”

The biggest culprit is the “international biofuels stampede,” said Terence Corcoran in Canada’s National Post. Lured by generous subsidies, farmers in the U.S. and Canada are growing corn for fuel and cutting acreage for soybeans and other crops. Consequently, prices for staples such as grains and cooking oil have risen 80 percent since 2005, the World Bank reports.

Globalization caused this crisis, and globalization can solve it, said Paul Collier in the London Times. Poor populations are being squeezed “as a result of the success of globalization in reducing world poverty.” Newly prosperous Chinese and Indian households are devouring food supplies just as worldwide production has stalled. To increase supply and lower prices, poor countries must invite “large, technologically sophisticated agro-companies” to take over food production. Only industrial-scale farming can feed an increasingly hungry world.

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