Heads of state from over 40 countries meet in Rome today (Tuesday) for a three-day United Nations conference on food security.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, US agriculture secretary Ed Schafer said he would present a “three-pronged strategy” to combat rising global prices.

“First, the USA will focus immediate and expanded humanitarian assistance on countries unable to meet minimum nutrition standards,” he said.

“Second, the USA supports urgent measures to attack the underlying causes of food availability in developing countries that have the capacity to rapidly increase production and availability of staple foods.

“Third, the USA will propose that all countries consider strategies that expand research, promote science-based regulations, and encourage innovative technology – including biotechnology.”

Mr Schafer added that he would be hosting a side event “to showcase developing countries that have moved forward with public investment in adoption of bioengineered products”.

The US agriculture secretary will also call for a rapid conclusion to the Doha Development Round of world trade talks to dismantle import tariffs, and will attack those countries, like Argentina and Ukraine, that are currently restricting food exports.

Finally, Mr Schafer will launch a defence of the US drive towards biofuels. “According to our analysis, increased biofuels production accounts for only 2% to 3% of the overall increase in global food prices.”

This is expected to anger environmental lobby group, Friends of the Earth, which issued its own statement ahead of the UN conference.

“Using crops to make biofuels is contributing to the global food crisis and will lead to millions of people going hungry,” it said. “Current analysis estimates that biofuels – mainly being promoted by the EU and US – explain around 30% of the increase in food prices.

“The much-flaunted ‘sustainability’ criteria being developed by the EU do not take into account knock-on effects such as rising food prices and increased hunger.”