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WASHINGTON — An Obama administration plan to change the way the United States distributes its international food aid has touched off an intense lobbying campaign by a coalition of shipping companies, agribusiness and charitable groups . . .
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 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.
. . . charities like Oxfam and CARE support the Obama administration change, saying reform is needed. The groups say that a large percentage of food aid is spent on shipping costs, and as the costs have risen the amount of food the United States has shipped to countries that need it has fallen.
The groups say they are especially glad to see the Obama administration end the practice of giving charities food to sell in local markets to help finance their antipoverty and development programs because the system is plagued with inefficiencies, and it may also hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.
People who don't want the change say:
Proponents of the plan, however, say it would enable the United States to feed about 17 million more people each year, while helping to fight poverty by buying the crops of farmers in poor countries.
“Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping and transportation of nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity here at home, provides support for our U.S. Merchant Marine, essential to our national defense sealift capability, and sustains a robust domestic constituency for these programs not easily replicated in foreign aid programs,”
James Caponiti, executive director of the American Maritime Congress, a trade group, said the proposed changes to the food aid program would have a devastating effect on shippers, because the law requires that 75 percent of food aid has to be transported on American-flagged ships.
“We are talking about hundreds of jobs lost,” Mr. Caponiti said. “This is a very, very bad idea.”
My very preliminary thoughts: If we buy the food in the needy country, how exactly is it done? Do we give the government the money to buy food for the people? Forgive my cynicism, but won't a lot of that go to weapons or palaces? If not the government, do we give it to the hungry individuals? Line up all the poor and give them each a $100 bill?
David Evans, the American president of the Phoenix-based charity Food for the Hungry, one of several aid charities that signed the letter opposing changes to the food aid program, worries that Congress may cut the food aid budget altogether if federal dollars are used to buy food abroad.
“This sets a dangerous precedent,” he said. “If the money is not supporting the purchasing of U.S. commodities, then it will lose support in Congress. And as a result, $1.5 billion in critical resources will be gone.”