(Traders in the Corn options pit at the CME Group signal orders shortly before the closing bell in Chicago, February 11, 2011/Frank Polich )

Pope Benedict said on Friday financial trading based on “selfish attitudes” is spreading poverty and hunger and called for more regulation of food commodity markets to guarantee everyone’s right to life. “Poverty, underdevelopment and hunger are often the result of selfish attitudes which, coming from the heart of man, show themselves in social behaviour and economic exchange,” the pope told a U.N. food agency conference.

“How can we ignore the fact that food has become an object of speculation or is connected to movements in a financial market that, lacking in clear rules and moral principles, seems anchored on the sole objective of profit?” he asked.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) food price index hit a record high earlier this year, reviving memories of soaring prices in 2007-08 that sparked riots in developing countries. That gave fresh urgency to the debate about how to improve a global food system that leaves some 925 million people hungry.

There is controversy over how much a new wave of investments by funds into commodities has contributed to pushing up prices. The issue has pitted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who blames speculators for surging food prices and unrest in some countries, against other countries who see little interest in more market regulation.