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Remove Special Interests From Food Aid Equation

“Each year, the United States spends more than $1.5 billion feeding starving people overseas,” columnist Farah Stockman writes in a Boston Globe opinion piece. “But our charity comes with a catch: The food has to be bought in America, and much of it must be shipped on American ships,” she continues, adding, “Researchers estimate that buying food closer to where needy people are costs about half as much.” She continues, “We are the last donor country in the world to have these rules,” and writes, “At a time of budget cuts, you would think that one thing Republicans and Democrats could agree on would be making sure every tax dollar stretches as far as it can.” Stockman asks, “Why don’t we just change it?”

“Christopher Barrett, a Cornell professor who studies food security, has an answer: About a dozen shipping lines and four giant agricultural corporations get the lion’s share of the food aid business,” she writes. “Last summer, President Obama dropped the percentage of food that had to be shipped on U.S.-flagged ships from 75 percent to 50 percent. And there are efforts underway to expand a pilot program that allows food aid to be bought locally,” Stockman notes. But “[f]ood aid advocates say it will still be many more years before decisions about aid are based solely on what is best for people who are dying of hunger, rather than the corporate interests that want to feed them,” she adds. “‘Some people say once you remove the special interests from the equation, there won’t be enough support to get these bills through,’ said Eric Munoz, a senior policy adviser for Oxfam America,” she writes, concluding, “Munoz believes we ought to test that theory. I agree” (12/11).