World Hunger Summit: Critics Say US Tactics Hurt Poor Farmers
Published on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 by the Associated Press
World Hunger Summit
Critics Say US Tactics Hurt Poor Farmers
by Nicole Winfield
ROME - The United States sought to justify its new farm subsidies and use of biotechnology yesterday amid criticism at the UN World Food Summit that its policies were stifling trade and harming poor farmers.

The two issues dominated the opening session of a four-day summit on world hunger at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Opponents of biotechnology say genetically modified plants pose environmental and health hazards and benefit the multinational corporations that develop and sell them - not farmers or consumers.

These groups, backed by many poor countries, also say the current international trade framework leaves the world's poor farmers unable to compete with subsidized crops from the United States, the European Union, and elsewhere.

Ann Veneman, US agriculture secretary, told the summit that biotechnology was one of the key ways to fight hunger by increasing productivity, improving crop quality, and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Such benefits, she said, ''are just a few of the ways science and technology can improve the quality of life in developing countries.''

Several delegations from developing countries agreed - but said they wanted access to the patented technology, held by many US corporations, so they can benefit from it.

''It's necessary to guarantee that the new schemes of intellectual property protection don't impede or limit the access of poor nations to technological advances in the world,'' said the president of the Dominican Republic, Hipolito Mejia.

Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, however, dismissed the US claim that a lack of technology was to blame for world hunger, saying there's more than enough food to go around.

''Let us stop beating around the bush,'' he said. ''The most fundamental problems are not the weather; are not lack of improved seeds.

''The main causes of food shortages in the world are really three: wars, protectionism in agricultural products in Europe, the USA, China, India and Japan, and protectionism in value-added products on the part of the same countries,'' he said.

The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, complained about major new US farm subsidies that President Bush signed into law last month.

''Like many other countries, we express real concern for the agricultural policy reforms being undertaken in the United States,'' he said. ''The farm bill for example is the type of measure we would all want to see reduced.''

EU officials have charged that the farm bill violates World Trade Organization rules.

Veneman defended the subsidies at a news conference, saying the criticism was misplaced and that the United States remained committed to lowering subsidies in the long run.

''The levels of support are not inconsistent with what's been spent and are within our WTO limits,'' Veneman said. ''And we remain committed, along with the countries of the world, to lowering domestic subsidies through the WTO negotiations.''

The summit opened with an appeal by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for leaders to make good on their promises in 1996, at the first food summit, to reduce the number of hungry people from 800 million to 400 million by 2015.

Today, the number of people without enough to eat, however, remains at 800 million.

''So there is no point in making further promises today,'' Annan said. ''This summit must give renewed hope to those 800 million people by agreeing on concrete action.''

Leaders attending the summit adopted a nonbinding resolution pledging to accelerate efforts to reach the 1996 goal.

They called for the creation of a voluntary set of guidelines to recognize the ''right to food'' for the world's 6 billion people.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press