Pope blames speculation, corruption for 'scandalous' food crisis

ROME (REUTERS) - Pope Francis said on Thursday that financial speculation and corruption were keeping millions of people in hunger, and the financial crisis could not be used as an alibi for failing to to help the poor.

The speech was the latest in a series of criticisms by the Argentinian Pontiff, the first Latin American Pope, of what he has called "the dictatorship of the economy" and the spread of consumerist values.

"It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation. This is truly scandalous," he said in a speech to participants of a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation conference in Rome.

Francis has made repeated calls to tackle poverty and focus on the needs of the poor since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI in March. He has made it his mission to rejuvenate an institution reeling from scandals, including widespread sexual abuse by priests, and losing people to other faiths.

"A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table," he said. "There is a need to oppose the short-sighted economic interests and the mentality of power of a relative few who exclude the majority of the world's peoples."

Speaking earlier this month ahead of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit of world leaders, Francis denounced what he called a culture of waste in an increasingly consumerist world and said throwing away good food was like stealing from poor people.

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