By Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey | George W.â€‰Bush on Thursday stepped up pressure on the European Union and other governments to lift restrictions on genetically modified crops to help ease the crisis in global food supplies.
The US president said modified crops offered a partial solution to the food crisis gripping some parts of the world because of their high yields and resistance to drought and disease.
“These crops are safe,” he said, “and they hold the promise of producing more food for more people.”
The remarks came as Mr Bush proposed a fresh $770m (â‚¬498m, £390m) in food aid, in addition to the $200m in emergency aid announced two weeks ago.
If approved by Congress, the funds would increase total US food aid this year to $2.3bn, up from $2.1bn last year.
“We’re sending a clear message to the world: that America will lead the fight against hunger for years to come,” said Mr Bush.
Global food prices have increased by 43 per cent over the past year because of soaring demand from developing countries and droughts in Australia and other crop growing countries, according to the White House.
Decreased supply and rising prices have led to food shortages from Haiti to the Philippines.
The White House rejected criticism that its support for the development of ethanol for fuel had contributed to the crisis by increasing pressure on corn supplies.
Officials said that the use of corn to produce ethanol accounted for just 2-3 per cent of the increase in food prices, and a third of the increase in corn prices.
However, the White House acknowledged the need to develop alternative sources of ethanol to reduce pressure on corn supplies — pointing to the $1bn committed for research into the use of grasses, wood chippings and agricultural waste to produce energy.
Dan Price, the US national security adviser for international economic affairs, said that most of the aid would go to Africa, with some of the funds earmarked for technical assistance to help countries grow more food.
He said GM crops would allow poor countries to produce larger, more resilient harvests but said restrictions in Europe and elsewhere provided a deterrent to investment in GM crops.
The US last year provided more than $2.1bn of food aid to 78 developing countries, with more than $1.8bn dispersed by Food for Peace, the agency that is the main provider of US food aid to the rest of the world.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008