Senate responds to foreign food aid cuts

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2013 - Rumors that President Obama's FY 2014 budget will cut the Food for Peace program have been flying for weeks - and on Wednesday, senators began to respond.

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“Food for Peace has been our nation's flagship international food assistance program since its establishment in 1954,” the senators wrote in a letter to Obama signed by 21 bipartisan lawmakers, including Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., subcommittee ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

“Food for Peace provides economic benefits at home, stimulating our farm and transportation industries,” the letter said. “American agriculture is one of the few U.S. business sectors to produce a trade surplus, exporting $108 in farm goods in 2010. During this time of economic distress, we should maintain support for the areas of our economy that are growing.”

The senators also noted that the program gives American commodities “directly to those without access to food” to help “end the cycle of poverty.”

Though the White House has yet to make a formal announcement about the Food for Peace program, Ellen Levinson, executive director of the Alliance for Global Food Security, said that a number of stakeholders were informed of the change last week. The administration will “instead seek funding for a much smaller and not-yet-defined food aid program at [the U.S. Agency for International Development] based on international procurement,” Levinson said in an email.

Levinson says her organization is “surprised” that the White House has not been more transparent about the change - transparency is “kind of one of their hallmarks,” she said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. The budget, due at the beginning of February but yet to be released, is not final, but Levinson said the administration “hasn't had a good discussion with their stakeholders.”

Yesterday, over 70 nonprofit, farm, commodity, labor and other organizations sent their own letter to the president protesting the change. The groups cited the program's economic benefits at home, but also its “strong track record of reducing child malnutrition and increasing incomes and food supplies for very poor and vulnerable populations.”

The groups described Food for Peace commodities, “bearing the U.S. flag and stamped as ‘From the American People,'” as “ambassadors of our nation's goodwill” - bulwarks, they argue, against international instability.

The organizations also praised the “transparency, accountability, and reliability of (the Food for Peace) system,” calling it the “result of decades of cooperation through a uniquely sustainable public-private partnership among thousands of committed Americans at faith-based and other non-governmental organizations, and in agriculture, labor, industry, and government."

The Office of Food for Peace provides the majority of the U.S. government's overseas food assistance. The majority of the office's funding comes from the Food for Peace Act, which was reauthorized under the 2008 farm bill.



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