* Farm ministers meet at FAO to discuss food price
* Participants urge food market transparency, data sharing
* Governments disagree on strategic food reserves
* Discussion on biofuels, meat consumption avoided
By Catherine Hornby and Sybille de La Hamaide
ROME, Oct 16 Farm ministers called for greater
transparency and r estrictive measures to contain volatility in
fo od commodity markets at a meeting on Tuesday, but failed to
agree on the bold idea of strategic grain stocks and
side-stepped food use in biofuels.
Over 30 ministers and deputy-ministers joined the meeting in
Rome set up by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO) after grain prices shot to record highs this summer - the
third price spike in four years - fuelled by drought in the
United States, Russia and other key producers.
To contain such price swings, participants suggested
boosting international coordination and data sharing in both the
public and private sectors, and increasing transparency in the
physical market and commodity futures trading.
"We need more transparency on the futures markets...we have
to be clear about what transactions are going on," German
Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner told the meeting.
"We need position limits to be applied with regards to
financial investors on the futures markets and also more
information with regard to the frequency of trades."
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll, who chaired
the conference, reiterated France's proposal for global
strategic grains reserves, but the idea was opposed by the U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations food agencies, David Lane.
Lane said that reserves were costly and would divert
resources away from other measures to handle food price
volatility, such as support for producers, safety nets for poor
consumers and investments in food distribution.
"Large-scale stocks can also encourage hoarding and
corruption in the food system and can create uncertainty in
markets as the timing and size of the release of stocks are
generally non-transparent and unpredictable," he said.
Le Foll had told Reuters in an interview on Monday he did
not expect to reach a deal in the short term on France's
strategic stocks proposal due to scant international support but
said that he would keep pushing for the idea.
An FAO report last week showed one out of every eight people
in the world is chronically undernourished, and that progress to
reduce hunger has slowed in recent years.
Its closely watched global food price index rose 1.4 percent
in September after remaining stable in August, and is close to
levels reached during the 2008 food crisis which sparked riots
in some poor countries.
Last month France called an emergency meeting of the Group
of 20 leading economies to discuss volatile food markets. It
asked for a meeting of the "Rapid Response Forum", created last
year to promote early discussion of critical market conditions
among senior officials.
But in early October, just days after it took over the chair
of G20 farm body AMIS, which decides whether to hold Rapid
Response meetings, the United States said such an emergency
meeting was not necessary given that agricultural markets were
FAO decided to maintain its plan to hold a meeting on food
prices, though it was not within the G20 framework. Some
countries acknowledged that the decision to not convene the
Rapid Response Forum had helped calm concern over rising prices.
"We must use this instrument in moderation to avoid any
atmosphere of crisis. I am very happy we have not had to use it
so far," said Germany's Aigner.
Aid agency Oxfam said Tuesday's meeting was a "last ditch
effort" and urged governments to reverse biofuel mandates, boost
food reserves and commit to agricultural investments.
"The daunting truth is that G20 countries have failed to
call a Rapid Response Forum or to calm markets shaken by extreme
weather events," Oxfam's Thierry Kesteloot said in a statement.
U.N Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier de
Schutter, said that ministers at the meeting had avoided
addressing subjects that are key to tackling high food prices
"There are many taboos which have not been discussed such as
the diversion of crops to biofuel production. Nobody dares to
evoke our consumption in rich countries, our taste for meat and
the huge impact that has on markets," he said.
"Far too little has been said about the question of power in
the food system, and the need to empower small farmers and hold
governments accountable. Hunger is not a technical issue, it is
deeply political and we need to face that reality."