Opening Statement at Farm Bill Conference

Washington, D.C. – At the Farm Bill conference committee’s opening meeting today at 2:30 p.m., U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will continue to advocate for the need to reform U.S. international food aid to help more people facing starvation, more quickly, at a lower cost.  Chairman Royce, along with Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), have been appointed to serve as House conferees representing the Foreign Affairs Committee during the House-Senate conference on H.R. 2642, The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

In June, during House farm bill consideration, Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel offered an amendment to reform U.S. international food aid.  The Royce-Engel amendment would have cut mandatory spending by a total of $150 million, resulting in deficit reduction. The bipartisan common sense reforms advocated by Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, and others including Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) have garnered widespread support from the National Farmers Union, NGOs, conservative and progressive think tanks, editorial boards, and others across the country:

Information on international food aid reform is available HERE.

Below is Chairman Royce’s opening statement as prepared for delivery at the conference committee meeting:

“I would like to thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees – Senators Stabenow and Cochran, and Representatives Lucas and Peterson – and all of the conferees for their efforts on the 2013 Farm Bill. 

For over sixty years, the Food for Peace program has helped more than three billion people facing starvation in over 150 countries.  Three billion!  This is an accomplishment we can be proud of. 

But while food markets and needs have changed substantially over time — U.S. international food aid has not. 

Shipping U.S. food overseas to address humanitarian needs is expensive.  It is slow.  It undermines broader U.S. development objectives. 

Meanwhile, U.S. agricultural exports are on the rise.  Farm incomes are up.  Business at U.S. ports is booming.  

The authority to deliver emergency food aid and develop agricultural markets exists under the Foreign Assistance Act.  This makes it incumbent upon the supporters of programs under Title III of this legislation to make them as effective and efficient as possible.  We can’t have a duplicative and inefficient subsidy program that benefits the few at the expense of broader American interests.  

The good news is that we can make international food aid programs under Title III faster, more efficient, and more accountable to the American taxpayer. 

For example, we can curtail the wasteful, inefficient practice of “monetization” by requiring development groups to recover at least 70 percent of the cost of procuring and shipping the food.  Eliminating monetization completely would be ideal.  Requiring anything less than the 70 percent rate of recovery is irresponsible.    

We also can build in flexibility so we better tailor our response to actual needs on the ground.  By allowing just 20 percent in flexible funding, we can save more lives for less money.  In fact, if we eliminated the requirement to monetize and provided just 20 percent in flexible funding, we could generate over $500 million in efficiency savings, reduce mandatory spending by $50 million, and reach millions more people in need during the life of this bill.  

A proposal that enables us to reach millions more in need while spending hundreds of millions less is commonsense.  This is a modest change and reasonable compromise that will have little-to-no tangible effect upon American farmers, yet will save millions of lives. 

Likewise, reauthorizing and expanding the Local and Regional Procurement (“LRP”) program, established under the 2008 Farm Bill, is a “good government” reform that merits strong support.  Evaluations of the prior program affirmed that this is an appropriate, timely, and cost effective option for food aid with manageable market impact. 

In the broader bill, there are areas where the House and Senate are far apart.  But there are other areas where compromise can and should be easy.  Title III is one of those areas.  I expect we will deliver.

As the larger conference moves forward, I hope it addresses Country of Origin Labeling to avoid a potential trade war with our neighbors; and respects the rights of individual states to maintain higher animal welfare standards within their borders.”