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Farm Bill Slashes International Food Aid Program

Congress has found a novel way to address the food crisis facing the developing world: Slash the budget for a bipartisan program providing school lunches to poor kids abroad to encourage them to remain in school.

According to The Washington Post this morning:

Under a deal worked out in the last few days, required spending on the Dole-McGovern International Food for Education program was set at $60 million. That is $780 million less than proposed by the House, and $40 million less than was allocated in the expiring farm bill.

That’s Dole, as in former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), and McGovern, as in former Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.). Neither is pleased with the development, and said so in a biting op-ed this morning, also in the :

How can the world’s hungriest schoolchildren be denied meals while the farm bill being debated in a House-Senate conference provides millions in subsidies for wealthy farmers? That’s what Congress proposes. In all fairness, it should not become law…

At a time when increasingly high food prices are pushing millions of families around the globe deeper into poverty, we must step up, not reduce, our efforts to feed hungry schoolchildren.

The change is particularly callous considering the windfall on tap for the domestic sugar industry. And it’s hardly a partisan issue. With $300 billion in farm-bill cash set to be spread around over five years, farm-state lawmakers from all ideologies are in line for a handout. As reported yesterday, Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is pushing provisions that would force any sugar imports to be used exclusively for ethanol production — meaning U.S. sugar producers would have no competition on the grocery-store shelves.

As the dryly notes, Peterson’s "district is among the nation’s top producers of sugar beets."

Under the headline "A Sweetheart Deal," a Post editorial today points out the practical consequences of those sugar subsidies:

The Sweetener Users Association, an organization of sugar-using industries, estimates that the farm bill will add $2 billion to grocery bills over five years. Commodity prices and farm incomes are exploding, imposing higher food costs on American consumers and threatening poor people around the world with outright hunger. Perhaps only in the U.S. Congress could it seem like a good time to compound the problem with a dose of sugar shock.

The Bush administration opposes the sugar provisions, and might yet succeed in eliminating them (the deal is not yet finalized). But one thing is already certain: Those poor school kids didn’t hire the right lobbyist.

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