'Prosperous Indians responsible for food crisis'

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Washington, May 3: In what is certain to raise the hackles of the Indian political establishment, US President George W Bush has blamed the ''prosperous'' 350 million-strong Indian middle class for the global food crisis, saying the strata's rising fortunes had led to the spiral in food prices.

President Bush's remarks came days after his top aide Condoleezza Rice said that ''an improvement in the diets of people in India and China'' had resulted in skyrocketing food prices around the world. He said the affluence of the middle class in India had resulted in higher consumption and an increase in demand for better food and nutrition, triggering the price rise.

''There are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. Their middle class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up,'' the US President said during a visit to World Wide Technology, Inc. in Missouri.

While commenting on the economy, President Bush said that an increase in demand worldwide had led to ''prosperity in the developing world, which is good''.

''It's going to be good for you because you'll be selling products into countries -- big countries perhaps -- and it's hard to sell products into countries that aren't prosperous. In other words, the more prosperous the world is, the more opportunity there is. It also, however, increases demand.'' While elaborating on the directly proportional relationship between prosperity and demand, President Bush cited the ''interesting'' example of the Indian middle class, which ''was bigger than America''.

President Bush, however, did not agree that America's ethanol policy was causing the surge in food prices. As nearly all of ethanol is produced from corn, the price of corn is high now, he said. ''And so people say, well, it's your renewable fuels policy that is causing the price of food to go up.'' ''I've looked at this issue a lot. Actually, the reason why food prices are high now is because, one, energy costs are high.

And if you're a farmer, you're going to pass on your cost of energy in the product you sell; otherwise you go broke.

''And when you're paying more for your diesel, paying more for your fertiliser because it's got a lot of natural gas in it-in other words, when your basic costs are going up, so does the cost of food,'' he said.

''And no question that ethanol has had a part in it, but I simply do not subscribe to the notion that it is the main cost-driver for your food prices going up,'' the US President said.

America is by far the most generous nation when it comes to helping the hungry, he added.


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