When both the liberal New York Times and conservative Wall Street Journal give editorial support to a federal program revision put forward by the Obama administration, it might be expected that such a change deserves speedy approval by Congress as well as the nation at large. That is doubly the case when it is recognized that it was President George W. Bush who first broached the idea that now has received the endorsement of his successor, Barack Obama. Yet, those who look upon the proposed amendment as ill-conceived and wrong-headed view their position as not just financially sound in a time of exceptionally tight budgeting, one of the reasons cited by proponents. Even more important to rejecting the proposed fundamental shift is how such action would deny the way the program has worked well to attain its original goal— to provide food to hungry people overseas while assuring strong support at home.
The amendment put forward by President Obama in his budget would change Title II of P.L. 480 (Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954) to cut back the mandate that food aid must be 75 per cent processed in America from U.S.-grown crops. Also set for change are provisions requiring shipment on U.S.-flag vessels as well as more recent amendments allowing donated commodities to be sold by recipient foreign aid agencies to raise cash for other projects. Besides the White House, advocates of ending donation of American food in favor of cash, including debit cards, are a few relief agency executives as well as spokesmen for some recipient countries and food exporting nations that expect to benefit from providing the food that up to now has come from U.S. suppliers.
One of the main arguments used by those in favor of this change is that the United States is the only provider of relief to hungry people that actually sends food, in bags with the legend, “Gift of the People of the United States.” Bowing to the revision promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, aid providers like the European Union changed to cash gifts several years ago. The latter was a move that underscores one of the principal reasons for not modifying the program — that switching from food shipments to money is usually accompanied by a slash in aid budgets, which are easy to cut absent the backing of farmers and food processors. In the case of the E.U., it has been estimated that its food relief outlay has been slashed 50 per cent in the wake of implementing thefood-for-money shift.
As if that possibility isn’t reason enough to maintain a program that has worked well for nearly sixty years, many other factors come into play, including the realistic judgment that questions changing something that “isn’t broken.” Questions about long lags in time between need and actual receipts are easily answered by records showing speed of delivery. That is especially the case in light of recent U.S. government moves to hold stocks of nutritious foods in strategic locations to assure availability.
When Title II had its start during the Eisenhower administration and in its early years, wheat flour was the primary commodity shipped by the U.S. government to feed hungry people in many parts of the world. The quality of American-milled flour prompted enthusiastic praise from aid recipients, and the program resulted in the development of specially designed foods meant to meet the eating preferences of recipients while making important contributions to health. For flour milling, Title II stands as a program that underscores the industry’s role as a supplier of essential food. Even in a time when Title II plays a minor role in demand for flour, the industry should never hesitate to point with pride to the role it has played in making food aid a success of American global food policy.