Omnivore - Bush outclasses Congress on emergency food aid

Whoa! The New York Times had something good to say about President Bush in an editorial Saturday, Aug. 4 (subscription only). Bush has proposed a more sensible way of providing emergency food aid to the world's hungry: "Instead of shipping American-grown food abroad, Washington would send American dollars to buy food from local farmers."

It makes perfect sense to do this but Congress will not cooperate, except perhaps to authorize a small pilot program. The reason? It would mean ending $300 million in farm subsidies. And, of course, that would anger highly subsidized (voting) farmers. The Times goes on to explain why continuing the present policy is dumb:

A recent article by The Times’s Celia Dugger shows why that makes so little sense. Starving Africans in the arid reaches of northwestern Kenya desperately needed food. Kenyan officials did not want surplus American corn because they feared driving down the prices for local farmers. The obvious answer was for the Americans to buy local corn, but American law prevented this. So the corn was never shipped and people continued to go hungry.

The United States is the world’s most generous provider of food aid, amounting to $2 billion annually. But too much of that aid is wasted in overhead, mainly shipping costs. At the other end of the pipeline, subsidized American food can hurt local farmers, while local procurement gives them a commercial outlet. Administration officials also note that food purchased here usually takes four months to reach its destination. Food purchased locally takes days.

The virtues of Mr. Bush’s idea are self-evident. What it needs is full Congressional support, not pilot programs. It would be nice if, for once, America’s farm bloc could think of interests other than its own.

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