April 15, 2008 / 11:31 AM / 11 years ago

Free food trade threatens environment, poor: report

LONDON (Reuters) - Food trade liberalization in developing countries can hurt attempts to alleviate poverty and damage the environment, according to a report from a United Nations and World Bank sponsored group issued on Tuesday.

“Opening national markets to international competition can offer economic benefits but can lead to long term negative effects on poverty alleviation, food security and the environment without basic national institutions and infrastructure being place,” the report said.

Sixty governments, including Brazil, China, France and India, have approved the report. The U.S., Australia and Canada are due to submit reservations later this week while Britain have not yet officially responded.

Governments are deeply concerned at the impact of rising food prices and the effect they are having on the world’s poor. There have been food-related riots in Haiti as well as protests in Cameroon, Niger and Burkina Faso in Africa, and in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Top finance and development officials from around the world called this week for urgent steps to stem rising food prices, warning that social unrest would spread unless the cost of basic staples was contained.

Tuesday’s report, from the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), said increases in intensive, export-orientated agriculture had serious social and environmental implications including exportation of soil nutrients and water and exploitative labor conditions.

The IAASTD, whose co-sponsors include the World Bank, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, said the benefits of increases in agricultural production were also unfairly distributed with the current system often increasing the gap between rich and poor.

Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by Chris Johnson

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