US clarifies Bush's remarks blaming India

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Washington, May 6: The White House has sought to clarify President George W Bush's remarks blaming India for the surge in global food prices which evoked wide protest from politicians in India.

''We think it is a good thing that countries are developing, that more and more people have higher and higher standards of living,'' Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said in reply to a question here yesterday. Mr Bush, in his speech, had said there were 350 million people in India who were classified as the middle class. ''That's bigger than America. 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, '' he had said.

The White House official said, ''The point I think that is to be made is that as you increase your standard of living, the food that you eat can venture more into meats that require more commodities to feed the livestock, which uses more of those commodities, whether it's corn or wheat or other commodities, and it drives up the price. So that is just a function of how those food prices that we've seen spike around the world.'' Referring to the criticism that the US diversion of food grain to bio-fuels led to the price-hike, Mr Stanzel said ''over the last year, food prices have increased about 43 per cent around the world. Of that portion, an increase in the bio-fuel production, about 1.5 per cent of that, is due to an increase in bio-fuel production.'' '' The other majority, vast majority of that, is due to things like increased demand, like you were talking about, or increased energy prices, or weather-related problems in Australia or in eastern Europe -- problems with wheat production, as an example -- that's driving up the price of those commodities,'' he said.

He said ''the fact that we are making more bio-fuels so we reduce our dependence on foreign energy has an impact, but we believe it is a small impact.''


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