The United States, Europe, and some Latin American countries did not do themselves proud in the face of a very real world food crisis at the U.N. food summit meeting in Rome last week.
Food commodity prices have doubled over the last couple of years and the World Bank says an additional 100 million people could go hungry this year as a result.
Yet petty domestic politics trumped most of these concerns.
Governments cannot control conditions like drought in Australia or too much rain in the American heartland this spring that have dampened and threaten to dampen food production. But mandates in the U.S. and Europe to use more food for fuel in the form of biofuel and ethanol mandates and subsidies have unquestionably contributed to the food crisis.
Such mandates are already dubious as environmental policy or a way to control climate change. To continue them in the wake of the current food crisis is indefensible on economic and humanitarian grounds. Eliminating them for a few years at least would be the single most constructive thing developed countries could do to alleviate food shortages.
Yet the U.S. and Europe — joined by Brazil, which has a huge domestic industry in ethanol from sugar cane — stubbornly refused to reconsider their policies.
In addition, the U.S. and European domestic farm programs, which unnecessarily subsidize crops, have had the long-term impact of depressing food production in less-developed countries because farmers in third-world countries can't compete with subsidized agriculture in developed countries.
Yet the U.S., which just passed an enormously wasteful farm bill, and Europe, cling to these programs.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization also criticized restrictions on food exports, which restrict world supply and put upward pressure on prices. But countries like Argentina, which have such restrictions in place, show few signs of changing those policies, although some Asian countries seem willing to reconsider them.
So the world political leaders talked and postured and produced mostly meaningless promises. The U.S. and Europe vowed to continue their destructive farm and biofuels policies.
People are likely to starve as a result, but the biofuels industrial complex will thrive on subsidies.