Friday, April 06, 2007

Who'd a Thunk It?

[posted by Callimachus]

Feed the world's hungry, yes. But even better, feed them with food grown in their own lands, so that they will have a better chance of someday not being dependent on American aid.

Give a man a fish ... teach him to fish ... old, solid notions understood by conservatives and liberals alike. You'd think. You'd hope.

So why is this so fishy?

For a third year, the Bush administration, which has pushed to make foreign aid more efficient, is trying to change the law to allow the United States to use up to a quarter of the budget of its main food aid program to buy food in developing countries during emergencies. The proposal has run into stiff opposition from a potent alliance of agribusiness, shipping and charitable groups with deep financial stakes in the current food aid system.

Oxfam, the international aid group, and other proponents of the Bush proposal say it would enable the United States to feed more people more quickly, while helping to fight poverty by buying the crops of peasants in poor countries.

The United States Agency for International Development estimated that if Congress adopted the Bush proposal, the United States could annually feed at least a million more people for six months and save 50,000 more lives.

But Congress quickly killed the plan in each of the past two years, cautioning that untying food aid from domestic interest groups would weaken the commitment that has made the United States by far the largest food aid donor in a world where 850 million go hungry.

Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, warned last year at a food aid conference in Washington that decoupling food aid from American maritime and agribusiness interests was “beyond insane.”

The Bush administration has got its priorities right here, frankly.

Who are the obstructionists? Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Bunge and the Cal Western Packaging Corporation; shipping companies; agribusiness; and, believe it or not, many of the nonprofit groups, who, it turns out, tend to treat American food donations as a sort of currency.

Nonprofit groups received over $500 million in donated American food, which they sold at market rates in developing countries to raise money for antipoverty programs, according to the international development agency, and a recent study by Emmy Simmons, a retired agency official.

The devil may lurk in the details, but the Bush Administration sounds like it has the right approach. I'll leave it to some anti blogger to show me how this actually proves the Bushies are totally in the pocket of the big corporations and Democrats in Congress are our last hope for protection against predatory capitalism and corporate welfare allied with Rethuglican perfidy.