Back to top

White House Proposes Critical Change to International Food Aid

The Obama Administration’s proposed budget – just one in a long line of proposed budgets that will need to go through several committees and votes in both the House and the Senate – includes a major change to US food aid policy.

According to the New York Times:

The administration is expected to propose ending the nearly 60-year practice of buying food from American farmers and then shipping it abroad.

The administration is proposing that the government buy food in developing countries instead of shipping food from American farmers overseas, a process that typically takes months. The proposed change to the international food aid program is expected to save millions in shipping costs and get food more quickly to areas that need it.

The administration is also reportedly considering ending the controversial practice of food aid “monetization,” a process by which Washington gives American-grown grains to international charities. The groups then sell the products on the market in poor countries and use the money to finance their antipoverty programs.

As the administration has correctly surmised, the US’ 60-year practice of shipping food overseas is wasteful and impractical, benefiting US farmers and corporations while often damaging the fragile developing economies of the people they are meant to help. As MADRE wrote on World Food Day in 2010:

Khalida Mahmoud [is] a 29-year-old woman whose farming family was driven into worsening poverty, after U.S. food aid poured into her home region of eastern Sudan. That’s not how food aid is supposed to work, but just look at the policy: your tax dollars are used to buy grain from U.S. factory farms, the same giant corporations that already receive $26 billion in tax subsidies. Then the grain is transported halfway around the world, using thousands of gallons of fossil fuel and releasing tons of harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The transport typically takes months while hungry people grow more desperate.

Once the food finally arrives, it floods agricultural markets, destabilizing fragile local economies. Small farmers are the first to go bankrupt.

Proponents of the White House budget measure estimate these changes could bring food aid to an additional 17 million people. “Shipping can double food aid costs because, by law, supplies must be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels,” said the Washington Post. “An additional $250 million would be provided to economic development projects and $75 million would be earmarked for emergency relief.” Through these policy changes, the US will avoid interfering in growing local economies while limiting the use of toxic preservatives and huge quantities of fossil fuels to ship food overseas.