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Food Summit Ends With Mixed Reviews:
Attendees Complain of Focus on Biotech Products instead of Water

ROME (AP) -- The U.N. Food Summit ended Thursday with organizers defending the event's relevance while advocacy groups said it failed to make headway in the fight against hunger.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said the summit had achieved concrete goals in accelerating efforts to feed the world's hungry and had attracted a record number of participants.

He ticked off figures of those who did attend: 6,613 participants, 74 heads of state or government, 181 countries represented, 1,000 organizations. U.N. officials had refused to give out the figures all week, amid criticism that Western leaders had snubbed the event.

Diouf acknowledged in an interview that the absence of all but two leaders of the industrialized world ``sends the wrong signal. Because again, human relations is not only about numbers and figures. It is about psychology.''

Nevertheless, he defended the summit's outcome at a press conference, saying: ``We unanimously adopted a declaration with participation of all world countries who agreed about what has to be done. So how can it be said that this summit served no purpose?''

He was responding to comments by the head of Britain's development department, Clare Short, that she wasn't even sending a minister because she didn't think the summit would accomplish anything.

Advocates of the poor, environmental and farmers' groups also called the summit useless, saying the outcome favored the interests of U.S. biotech corporations, and not the world's hungry.

Delegates pledged to accelerate efforts to bring the number of people without enough to eat from 800 million to 400 million by 2015.

That goal was set in 1996, and while there have been some gains, the total number of hungry people remains the same because of the growth of the world's population.

Delegates promised to step up efforts to meet the 1996 goal and went a small step further, calling for the creation of a voluntary set of guidelines that recognizes the right to food for the world's 6 billion people.

Non-governmental organizations attending a parallel food conference said the outcome wasn't enough. In a statement, they rejected a final document that ``compounds the error of 'more of the same failed same medicine' with destructive prescriptions that will make the situation even worse.''

They singled out a call for advancement in biotech research, which many said erodes biological diversity in favor of high-yield varieties of seeds being pushed by U.S. biotech corporations.

Diouf himself said he thought biotech's role in ending world hunger was ``marginal'' and that the more important issue was getting enough water to the world's farmers.


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