Scrap farm export subsidies, says Swiss theological ethicist

By Ecumenical News International
April 23, 2008

Agricultural export subsidies in developed countries which destroy local food production as well as the income of farmers in the global South and therefore contribute to the world food crisis need to be withdrawn, says Swiss ethicist the Rev Christoph Stückelberger - writes Peter Kenny.

Writing in the German-language Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger on 17 April, Stückelberger, the CEO of the Geneva-based worldwide ethics-network, and professor of Ethics at the University of Basel said, "The right to adequate food implies three kinds of obligations for States: the obligation to respect, to protect and to provide."

He noted that the "obligation to respect" requires countries to refrain from any measure that could prevent access to adequate food and food aid, and that this responsibility prohibits nations from destroying food or the infrastructure necessary to produce it.

"The extreme development of the doubling of the price of wheat and soy in the last 10 months as well as the 75 percent rise in the price of rice, and the 66 percent increase in the price of corn within the same period, has led to unrest in several developing countries," said Stückelberger.

Countries in the European Union as well as Switzerland and the United States have agricultural subsidies which governments pay to farmers and agribusiness to supplement their incomes and this influences the prices and supplies of commodities on international markets, note some analysts.

Hedge Funds, which are private investment funds, have shifted from financial markets to raw materials markets due to the current financial crisis in some countries, appear to be amplifying the volatility of food prices, Stückelberger said.

He asserted the funds should be regulated so that countries can fulfil their obligations in terms of the right to food prescribed and accepted by international organizations.

"One of the principles of socially-responsible investments must be that staple foods should not be objects of speculation," stated Stückelberger.

The Swiss ethicist noted that 18 Swiss development organizations and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, have come out in support of calls by representatives of private industry, such as Nestlé president, Peter Brabeck and various politicians, that there should be a moratorium on the "first generation biofuels".

These biofuels are made from food crop feed stocks from the global South. Stückelberger pointed to first generation bioethanol, which is made by fermenting ethanol, or plant-derived sugars. The process has been likened to that in wine and beer-making.

Stückelberger said that second and third generation biofuels should continue to be tested because it appears they could offer solutions for the ecological production of renewable energies without harming food production or without demanding a huge usage of water.

Following protests in Brazil and Europe against fuels derived from food crops, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on 16 April defended his country's production of biofuels, denying that their production is contributing to food scarcity and soaring world prices.

"Don't tell me, for the love of God, that food is expensive because of biodiesel. Food is expensive because the world wasn't prepared to see millions of Chinese, Indians, Africans, Brazilians and Latin Americans eat," Lula told journalists. "We want to discuss this not with passion but rationality, and not from the European point of view."

English text of Stückelberger article:

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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