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CRS: International Food Aid and the 2007 Farm Bill

Author: Charles E. Hanrahan
January 25, 2008



Legislative authority for international food aid programs in the 2002 farm bill (P.L. 107-171) expires in 2007. The 110th Congress has been considering the extension and reauthorization of food aid programs as part of the 2007 farm bill. On December 14, 2007, the Senate passed its version of the 2007 farm bill, which included reauthorization of food aid programs in Title III, the trade title. The House passed its version of the 2007 farm bill (H.R. 2419) with its version of the trade title on July 27, 2007.

International food aid is the United States’ major response to reducing global hunger. In 2006, the United States provided $2.1 billion of such assistance, which paid for the delivery and distribution of more than 3 million metric tons of U.S. agricultural commodities. The United States provided food aid to 65 countries in 2006, more than half of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the food aid — $1.2 billion or 57% — was provided as emergency food aid. About one-third is used in non-emergency or development projects carried out by U.S. private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and cooperatives.

The United States provides U.S. commodities as international food aid through eight programs. These are Titles I, II, and III of the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 (P.L. 83-480), known collectively as P.L. 480; the Food for Progress Program; the John Ogonowski Farmer-to-Farmer Program; the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program; Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949; and the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust (BEHT).

In Congress, the food aid reauthorization debate has focused on P.L. 480 Title II commodity donations and food aid for school feeding and child nutrition in the McGovern-Dole food aid program. Issues raised include the need for and role of food aid in both meeting urgent humanitarian food needs and reducing hunger among the chronically hungry; the timeliness and cost of emergency food aid; and making food aid a more reliable response to emergency needs while not neglecting the use of food aid and cash resources to improve the lot of the chronically hungry in poor countries. Attention also has been paid to how U.S. food aid programs conform to existing and possible future World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements.

The Administration and two groups of PVOs/cooperatives that carry out food aid programs have made recommendations for legislative changes in farm bill authorized food aid programs. The Administration’s only food aid proposal — to make P.L. 480 funds available for local or regional purchase to meet emergency food needs — was not included in the House-passed farm bill. The Senate bill, however, does authorize the use of P.L. 480 funds for a pilot program for local or regional purchase of emergency food aid commodities.

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