Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mixed Feelings About Food For Progress Program Grants, Genetically Engineered Foods Featured

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer recently announced plans for $212 million in international assistance under Food for Progress (FFP) Program for the current fiscal year.

Under the enabling legislation, agricultural commodities may be sent to countries that are “emerging democracies” and “have made commitments to introduce or expand free enterprise elements into their agricultural economies.”

Related food aid programs state that (1) the policy of the United States is to use food aid to “develop and expand export markets for United States agricultural commodities” and, (2) that priority for food aid should be given to countries that “have the demonstrated potential to become commercial markets for competitively priced United States agricultural commodities.”

Genetically Engineered Foods the Focus of This Year’s Food Aid

This year’s allocations announced by the secretary include more than 280,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat and wheat flour, soybean and vegetable oil, soybean meal and yellow corn that will be purchased on the U.S. market and donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These commodities are eligible because they have been acquired by the US government through its price support operations.

92% of planted soybean acres in the US are genetically engineered. 63% of corn acreage in the US is genetically engineered. Many recipients of food aid from the US still prohibit the import and planting of genetically modified seed, but they accept genetically modified food from the United States.

One may not want to dwell on the politics of hunger and food aid, but one has to note that the opening and maintaining of markets is a key objective of the Food For Progress program.

CARE opts out of monetized food sales and most Food For Progress Programs

In CARE USA’s White Paper on Food Aid Policy, recognition is given that “under some circumstances food aid can harm local production and markets, undermining long-term food security.” Based on this and other reasoning CARE has decided to transition out of monetization under the Food For Progress Program. Monetization is the sale of US donated food to generate cash for humanitarian programs. CARE has taken the position that food aid should not be used to enable a donor country to establish an unfair commercial advantage and must not create disincentives to local production and markets. By September of 2009, CARE will no longer accept Food For Progress resources that come from subsidized sales or surplus disposal, nor will CARE monetize resources from the FFP Program.

CARE’s primary objection to participation is that these programs have as their stated objectives the support of US farmers, and the promotion of free enterprise and competition in agricultural economies in recipient countries.

Eliminate Objectives that Link Food Aid to Expansion of Export Markets

Policies and programs for U.S. food aid should be established and operated based on the food security needs of recipient countries and vulnerable populations rather than donor country objectives to expand its export markets.

While US food aid programs do not overtly include objectives to expand US markets (and to promote GE crops and seeds) and their success is not measured on this basis, there are provisions in current law that state market expansion as an objective. Changes are needed to correct this problem. Congress should eliminate the statement in the preamble to PL 480 that it is the policy of the United States to use food aid to “develop and expand export markets for United States agricultural commodities.”

And, in PL 480 Title I, Congress should eliminate the priority for countries that “have the demonstrated potential to become commercial markets for competitively priced United States agricultural commodities” and other references to using Title I for market development purposes.

Using food aid to compel recipient countries to accept genetically engineered crops or to open their fragile markets to US subsidized crop competition is an exploitation of our comparative advantages in food production to the detriment of the recipient countries. We should not benefit economically by the destruction of recipient countries’ ability to feed themselves or to provide for their own food security.

The Food For Progress and other food aid programs should be continued, but the purposes of the program should exclude development of export markets and the fortunes of agribusiness conglomerates.