ROME (Reuters) - A U.N. food summit failed to tackle the domination of global food markets by large agri-business corporations, and was vague on biofuels and commodity speculation, the U.N. food envoy said.
In a speech to the summit released on Tuesday before delivery, Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter criticised the leaders’ declaration, saying it was silent on a number of crucial issues.
He said private agri-business corporations operated “without any sort of control and with often extremely high levels of concentration that represent a serious market failure”.
“The declaration is entirely silent about how to address this,” he said. “And it is silent about the right of agricultural workers to a living wage.”
At a U.N. forum to drum up private sector support in the fight against hunger last week, food and agriculture majors said they were already investing millions of dollars in sustainable farm development to secure reliable supplies, cut costs and boost positions on new markets.
Participants at the forum, which included Nestle, Unilever, Cargill , Bunge and Syngenta, said the investments were not charity, but part of their business strategy.
But De Schutter that big groups were often “tempted” to cut agricultural labourers’ wages and this undermined efforts to support small-scale and sustainable farming.
He also said the summit declaration was weak on the production and use of biofuels and on commodity market speculation, despite the impact of both on prices.
Food prices spiked to record highs last year due to a series of factors, including higher energy prices, a rise in the use of food crops for biofuels, and speculative trade on agricultural markets.
The declaration adopted on the first day of the November 16-18 Rome summit simply said world leaders would “request international organisations to examine possible links betwen speculation and agricultural price volatility”.
On biofuels, the leaders called for more studies to ensure production of biofuels is sustainable.
The production of liquid biofuels based on agricultural commodities like maize, sugar, oil seeds and palm oil increased more than threefold between 2000 and 2008.
One study estimated the rapid expansion of biofuels to 2050 could boost the number of undernourished pre-school children in Africa and Asia by 3 million and 1.7 million respectively.