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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 who say the change will harm the nation’s economy and hamper efforts to fight global hunger.

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.

According to people briefed on the soon-to-be released fiscal year 2014 budget, the administration is expected to propose ending the nearly 60-year practice of buying food from U.S. farmers and then shipping it abroad.

The administration is proposing that the government buy food in developing countries instead of shipping food from U.S. farmers overseas, a process that typically takes months. The proposed change to the international food aid program is expected to save millions in shipping costs and get food more quickly to areas that need it.

The administration is also reportedly considering ending the controversial practice of food aid “monetization,” a process by which Washington gives U.S.-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.

Critics of the practice say it hurts local farmers by competing with sales of their crops.

The United States spends about $1.4 billion a year on food aid and is the only major donor country that continues to send food to humanitarian crisis spots, rather than buying food produced locally.

In a letter to members of Congress and the Obama administration, more than 60 organizations like the USA Rice Federation and the American Maritime Congress defended the way the program is currently run and called on lawmakers and the Obama administration to resist changing it.

“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,” the groups wrote.