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Bush wants $770 million more global food aid

  • Story Highlights
  • Sum is in addition to $200 million emergency food aid already announced, Bush said
  • Food riots broke out this year in Egypt, Haiti, Yemen, Bangladesh
  • Majority of the assistance is to be sent to Africa, White House officials said
  • Department of Labor says price of eggs surged 30 percent this past year
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged Congress on Thursday to approve $770 million in new global food aid to be made available beginning in October.

President Bush said Thursday that "more needs to be done" about rising food prices.

The sum would be in addition to $200 million in emergency food aid announced two weeks ago through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called the Emerson Trust, and more aid is likely to be sought, he said.

"That's just the beginning of our efforts," he said at the White House. "I think more needs to be done."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, promised quick action.

"This is not only a humanitarian issue; it is a matter of national security as well," she said in a statement.

Riots have broken out in Egypt, Haiti, Yemen, Bangladesh and other nations in response to the rising price of food, which has gone up 43 percent internationally over the past year, a White House official said.

On Tuesday, the United Nations formed a task force to look at the problem.

"In some of the world's poorest nations, rising prices can mean the difference between getting a daily meal and going without food," Bush said.

Of the $770 million, $395 million will be spent on emergency food aid, $225 million on direct assistance to the U.S. Agency for International Development and $150 million for development assistance, also through USAID, White House officials said after Bush's speech. Video Watch Bush ask for more funds »

The majority of the assistance is to be sent to Africa, with none of it targeted for North Korea, where dire food shortages have been under way for months, the White House officials said.

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Total U.S. international food aid is projected to have risen 34 percent from 2006 through 2009, from $1.75 billion to $2.34 billion, said Ed Lezear, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

The increase in prices has been tied to soaring costs for the petroleum-based fertilizers and gasoline-based transportation that many producers depend on.

In a statement, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, applauded the move.

"This kind of leadership and commitment to the hunger problem is critical at this juncture, and we urge Congress to appropriate these funds as quickly as possible," she said.

The president noted that the rise in food prices has also affected consumers in the United States, where demand for food stamps has reached record levels. Since 2001, he said, his administration has increased food stamp benefits by 76 percent.

And last month, the Department of Agriculture made $150 million available to participants in the Women Infants and Children nutrition program, an increase of 18.6 percent, he said.

Thursday's announcement came as a joint committee of Congress began scrutinizing the impact of rising food costs on middle-class families in the United States.

"The anxiety felt over higher food prices is going to be just as widespread and will equal or surpass the anger and frustrations so many Americans have about higher gas prices," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

The average American spent $1,926 on groceries last year, a 4.2 percent increase from the prior year, according to the USDA. The department projects a 4.5 percent increase this year to $2,013.

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Certain foods have spiked dramatically over the past year. The price of eggs surged nearly 30 percent, milk and flour jumped more than 13 percent, and rice rose nearly 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The chief economist for the USDA, Joseph Glauber, told the committee that the overall price increase in 2007 was the largest annual jump in the United States since 1990. He blamed worldwide economic growth, bad weather, restrictions on food exports and the biofuels industry, which has diverted corn from dinner tables to production of ethanol. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Aaron Smith contributed to this story.

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