GAO: Despite Increased Funding, U.S. Food Aid Declines « The Washington Independent
Despite a 53 percent in food aid funding over the last two years, the amount of food delivered to address emergencies abroad fell 5 percent over the same span, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported Wednesday. GAO is citing as a culprit a U.S. law requiring that almost all international food aid be grown domestically — a boon to American agribusiness — rather than purchased closer to the disaster, an approach known as local and regional procurement (LRP). While careful study is required to ensure that LRP won’t harm local markets or degrade nutrition, GAO suggests that allowing more in-cash contributions from the country’s multi-billion food aid programs could save more lives.
[W]e determined that LRP is generally more cost-effective and timely than U.S. in-kind food aid … However, certain legal requirements for U.S. food aid, such as the requirement to procure only U.S.-grown agricultural commodities and to transport those commodities on U.S.-flag vessels, known as “cargo preference,” may constrain U.S. agencies’ use of LRP.
Strangely enough, the grown-domestic mandate was one that President George W. Bush tried to reform for years, proposing that 25 percent of U.S. food aid be bought closer to the crises abroad. Congress, behind powerful farm-state lawmakers dead-set on protecting their regional industry, shot him down every time.
Not that the Obama administration isn’t aware of the problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release new LRP guidelines soon.