A U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday looked at the factors behind the global food crisis and how the United States and the international community should respond.  VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, spoke of the impact of the food crisis.

"News reports and images of deadly riots in Haiti, triggering the collapse of the government, and more than 30 nations around the globe, are stark reminders that food insecurity threatens not only the hungry, but peace and stability itself," she said.

The top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, says a number of factors have led to the food crisis, including increased demand from a changing diet in Asia, higher fuel prices that make transporting food more expensive, the rising use of biofuels that rely on staples like corn, and expanded trade barriers and farm subsidies.

Lugar says the global food situation could improve if more countries embraced freer trade.

"Even as we increase yields, we must scale back agriculture subsidies and trade barriers that raise prices and undercut many farmers in the developing world," he noted.  "These policies are distorting agricultural trade and decision-making on a global scale and preventing many potentially productive farmers in the developing world from accessing markets."

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware says the United States and the international community have not done enough.

"Necessary investments, in my view, have not been made," he said.  "Donor nations lack a coherent food security strategy, and our response has been I think somewhat belated and disjointed."

The World Food Program's Sheeran says another contributing factor to the problem is that some countries have put in place export controls to prevent the shipments of food staples to other countries.

"Today I would call on all nations to respect the movement of humanitarian food despite whatever blocks they have and help us meet the need that are out there," she added.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Henrietta Fore called on lawmakers to approve the Bush administration's request for $770 million in new assistance to respond to the global food crisis.
"It is going to take a multi-year, multi-donor solution to this problem," she said.

Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, noted that by the time Congress approves the package, the funds would not be released until late this year, at the earliest.  He urged a more immediate response to the crisis:

"I just wish the actions of the administration would match the urgency and the gravity of the human misery that we are seeing affected by food prices and food insecurity that comes with it," he said.

The administration's funding request is included in a $70 billion spending measure that includes funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.