Global Ethics Corner: Food for Peace?

May 13, 2013

Since 1954, the U.S. has shipped American wheat, corn, soy meal, and vegetable oil to nations suffering from hunger and famine. This Department of Agriculture program is called Food for Peace. Last year, the program cost U.S. taxpayers $1.5 billion. Since 2002, the average annual cost of Food for Peace has been $1.8 billion.

Critics have long maintained that the program’s main beneficiaries are Americans, and that for those overseas, it actually does more harm than good. By dumping underpriced food into fragile markets in developing countries, the program crowds out local agriculture. Since the food is shipped from the U.S., it often gets there too late for those most in need. Buying supplies closer to hand could save lives.

Now, a political fight is brewing over how the program should go forward.

Domestic interests that benefit from Food for Peace largesse—including the farming and shipping industries—have secured bipartisan Congressional support to preserve it as is. Also in favor of maintaining the status quo are some humanitarian groups, such as International Relief & Development, who have been allowed by USAID to "monetize" U.S.-donated food aid by selling it and spending the proceeds on anti-hunger programs.

In his Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal, President Obama announced plans to revamp Food for Peace. He proposes ending the practice of shipping American-grown food overseas and providing cash grants instead. The money would go to foreign governments and private-relief organizations. InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based international relief organizations, has said they will support the change so long as lawmakers "retain the focus of these programs on reaching the world's poorest and most vulnerable."

What do you think? Does the current Food for Peace program serve a beneficial dual purpose by employing Americans and feeding the world’s poor? Or would "Cash for Peace" be a more effective way to help those in need?

For more information see:

Dan Charles, "A Political War Brews Over 'Food For Peace' Aid Program," NPR, April 4, 2013

"NGO alliance endorses food assistance reform principles," InterAction, April 9, 2013

"How 'Food for Peace' Hurts Foreign Farmers," The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2013

David Rogers "A food fight over aid program," Politico, April 24, 2013

Rick Cohen, "USAID Walks Tightrope Between Government Reform and Corporate Influence," Nonprofit Quarterly, April 29, 2013

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
USDA [also for picture 18]
Paul Devoto
United Nations Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Marion Doss [also for pictures 5 & 6]
Will Merydith
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
Randy & Sharon Green
EU Naval Force
World Food Programme/Peter Casier
Scott Butner
Feed My Starving Children
U.S. Navy/Candice Villareal
IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/TURKEY
Beaman Kolb
IFDC Photography
United Nations Photo
World Bank
Charles Knowles

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