France's agriculture minister warned the United Nations on Thursday that food riots like those of three years ago could break out around the world because of steep rises in food prices.
Bruno Le Maire was addressing the General Assembly after the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported earlier this month that its food price index rose for the seventh month in a row in January to reach its highest level on record.
Declaring that food price swings were "intolerable" for both producers and consumers, he said they "make us run the risk of experiencing again hunger riots like those that affected a certain number of countries in 2008."
At that time, riots broke out in countries as far apart as Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.
Le Maire was laying out to the General Assembly France's agenda for the Group of 20 top developed and developing economies, of which it currently holds the chair. Taming volatile commodity prices is one of the goals of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The price rises have been blamed on extreme weather, rising populations and loss of farming land, but Le Maire said they had been worsened by speculation, poor information on commodity stocks and sudden decisions by countries to halt exports.
The minister, whose speech to the closed assembly session was released by France's U.N. mission, said Paris was proposing a series of measures including public investment in agriculture around the world and encouraging private investment.
A Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 pledged to raise $20 billion over three years to promote development of agriculture, but French officials say only some $2 billion has been disbursed with little hope of more in the short term as developed countries trim budgets.
Le Maire said regulation of international commodity markets was also needed, but said this meant improving their operations, not "fighting against the market."
"We don't want a return to an administrated agricultural economy," he said.
At a news conference, Le Maire said the United States was already "quite advanced" on market regulation through its Dodd-Frank act, signed into law last year, offering provisions that the European Union did not yet possess.
French officials said Le Maire had decided to address the 192-nation General Assembly to convince it that the G-20 had their interests at heart and believed that the grouping needed to have the rest of the world "on board." Some U.N. members fear the G-20 is a new elite club along the lines of the G-8.
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