Pope emphasizes right to food in speech to experts at hunger panel

Pope Francis emphasized the right to food as fundamental in a video address Saturday to 500 experts starting work on a wide-ranging document aimed at raising awareness and proposing solutions to issues including hunger, obesity and food waste.

Francis said the paradox of abundance described by Pope John Paul II -- whereby there is food for everyone yet not everyone can eat -- continues to be an issue "despite the multiplication of organizations and responses by the international community on nutrition."

The pope addressed a session of experts drafting the so-called Milan Charter that seeks commitments from governments, organizations and individuals during the Expo 2015 world fair to resolve such issues as ensuring food security, decreasing food waste and combatting both hunger and obesity. Italy is hosting the Expo 2015 from May 1-Oct. 31.

Francis gave his blessing to the delegates, and some guidelines, urging them to focus on resolving "the structural causes of poverty," not just address emergencies, and to maintain the dignity of the individual at the heart of economic policy.

He also urged them to show courage in protecting the planet "the mother of everything that asks respect and not violence."

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The Italian government intends the Milan charter to be the legacy of Expo 2015, increasing awareness of the universal right to a "healthy, safe and sufficient" food supply, Italian agriculture minister Maurizio Martina told the Associated Press.

"My ambition is that the 20 million people who visit Expo will become 20 million ambassadors of the right to food," Martina said.

The document will be presented to 145 agriculture ministers meeting in Milan in June for their contributions, and then presented in October, at the end of the Expo, to the U.N. secretary general.

"It should be very tight, with clear and precise commitments," Martina said.

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