We can't go on eating like this

It is all very awkward. China and India are getting richer. And it appears their new middle classes want all the things we want: cars, washing machines, even meat. Here in the west, we have to restrain ourselves from saying: “Stop. You can’t live like us. The planet can’t stand it. And our wallets can’t stand it. Have you seen the price of petrol?”

Global equity is the awkward issue lying behind the world food crisis. In the long run, it will also prove fundamental to discussions on energy and global warming.

World leaders will be urged today to cut EU and US biofuel targets immediately and divert more grain to tackle the global food crisis.

As more than 40 heads of state meet at the emergency food summit in Rome, aid organisations stepped up their demand for action on biofuels, which have contributed to an 83 per cent rise in food prices in the past three years.

Gordon Brown indicated yesterday that he would support a review of EU biofuel targets as he called for the food crisis to be placed at the top of the agenda at the G8 summit next month in Japan.

Speaking after a meeting with Yasuo Fukuda, the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Brown said that he backed the need to expand aid and help for agricultural production. “We need to look at whether we have made the right decisions over time about the production of biofuels at the expense of food.”

Britain is now reviewing its own target, which is to ensure that 5 per cent of transport fuel is made up of biofuels by 2010. The European Commission is drawing up a compulsory target for all members of a 10 per cent minimum of biofuels by 2020.

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, who is representing Britain at the summit, is also expected to argue for urgent aid in the form of fertilisers and seeds. He will call on the US and Europe to reduce farm subsidies, but will face opposition from the Americans and some EU member states.

Both developing and developed countries will also be urged to review trade agreements and increase cash aid to the poorest nations. Yesterday Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that rich countries should increase aid tenfold to £15 billion to help to solve the crisis.

Oxfam has also estimated that an extra £8 billion is needed to scale up immediate assistance to at least 290 million people threatened by rising food prices. Longer-term changes included “the urgent review of compulsory biofuels targets in rich countries to stop their inflationary impact”, an Oxfam report out today says.

Recent estimates suggest that increased demand for biofuels accounts for 30 per cent of recent food price rises while mounting scientific evidence shows biofuels are having an overall negative impact on climate change, it said.