Monday, April 8, 2013

Changes Coming in US Food Aid?

According to this New York Times article from April 4, the Obama Administration is considering changes to the system of US food aid.

Since its creation in 1954, US food aid has worked basically like this:  the federal government buys grains or other food stuffs from US farmers, then ships it abroad to help feed poor people in other countries.

This system of food aid was created at a time when there was a large surplus of wheat in the US.  Food aid (also known as Public Law 480, or PL 480) was designed to draw down government-owned stocks of grain.

At its best, PL 480 represented an attempt to help those in need.  At its worst, food aid "dumped" cheap food on foreign markets with numerous deleterious effects.

Critics of the program have long argued that it undermines agriculture in recipient nations.  Grain farmers in recipient nations find it difficult to compete with subsidized grain from the US.  The result is often a shift in diets, especially in urban areas, as wheat replaces such as corn or maize, rice, or other domestic/traditional grains.

As with any change in agricultural policy, we will see if the opposing coalition is strong enough to prevent the change.