Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing, “Modernizing US International Food Aid: Reaching More for Less.”
The statement follows:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this very timely hearing and for your leadership in tackling the issue of food aid reform. Secretary Glickman and Administrator Natsios, as Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’d like to welcome you here today.
Since 1954, the Food for Peace program has fed more than a billion people around the world, and saved countless lives. This reflects the compassion and generosity of the American people, and it’s something we should all be proud of. However, despite its great success, Food for Peace is now showing its age, and is in urgent need of reform.
One of the key problems with the current system is that it takes too long to deliver US-grown food aid – an average of 130 days. By purchasing food in the recipient country or region, we can cut that time in half, and in the process, get food to starving people before it’s too late. Hunger pangs shouldn't be subject to shipping schedules.
In addition, it’s very expensive to transport the food from the US heartland to recipient countries. In fact, shipping, transportation and handling costs account for approximately half of the food aid budget. We can save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by purchasing food aid closer to the destination countries.
And third, the current system sometimes harms agricultural markets in the countries we are trying to help. This is the result of a somewhat bizarre process called “monetization”, in which non-governmental organizations sell U.S commodities overseas in order to fund other development projects.
In my travels to Haiti, I’ve seen firsthand how the sale of American rice under this well-intentioned program has driven local rice farmers out of business, thus making it harder for Haitians to feed themselves.
“Monetization” is also exceedingly wasteful – according to the GAO, at least 25 cents of every dollar is lost during this process.
I commend the Administration for its food aid reform proposal, and I’m pleased to support it, along with Chairman Royce. In this time of increasing political polarization, I think it’s a testament to the strength of good ideas and common sense that this plan has garnered bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and from groups as disparate as the Heritage Foundation and Oxfam.
Sometimes it seems that we lose sight of why we have a food aid program in the first place. It isn't to subsidize growers, shippers, or NGOs. It's to prevent men, women and children in the developing world from starving to death.
For those who worry about the impact of this proposal on the farm community, there's a reason why Cargill, the National Farmers Union and other Ag interests have expressed support for additional flexibility in our food aid programs.
Mr. Chairman, the easy thing is to do nothing on the issue of food aid reform. But the right thing to do is to enact sensible reforms that save taxpayer money and, most importantly, save lives.
I look forward to working with you to get some of these reforms implemented, and to hearing from our distinguished witnesses.