UNITED NATIONS - Former President Bill Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday that the global food crisis shows "we all blew it, including me," by treating food crops "like color TVs" instead of as a vital commodity for the world's poor.
Addressing a high-level event marking Oct. 16's World Food Day, Clinton also saluted President Bush - "one thing he got right" - for pushing to change U.S. food aid policy. He scolded the bipartisan coalition in Congress that killed the idea of making some aid donations in cash rather than in food.
Clinton criticized decades of policymaking by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the United States, that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa's food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose.
Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade - on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008 - have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the number of undernourished people worldwide rose to 923-million last year.
U.S. law requires that almost all U.S. aid be American-grown food, which benefits U.S. farmers but undercuts local food crops. Bush proposed this year that 25 percent of future U.S. aid be given in cash.
"A bipartisan coalition (in Congress) defeated him," Clinton said. "He was right, and both parties that defeated him were wrong."
The U.N. General Assembly president, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, expressed disappointment that of $22-billion pledged by wealthy nations to help poor nations' agriculture in this year of food crisis, only $2.2-billion has been made available.