May/June 2013
When Food is Peace By John Keeling, NPC executive vice president and CEO

I think the farmers can bring more credit, more lasting good will, more chance for freedom, more chance for peace, than almost any other group of Americans in the next 10 years, if we recognize that food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping hand to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want.
– John F. Kennedy, Sept. 22, 1960

Since the creation of the Food for Peace program nearly 60 years ago, an estimated three billion people in 150 countries have benefited directly from U.S. food aid supplied by U.S. farmers. Due to these and other humanitarian programs, the American people have been able to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are willing and able to fight global hunger, help people recover from natural and man-made crises, and support nutrition and development in impoverished countries.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which was released in mid-April, proposes to drastically change the Food for Peace program by altering the way our international food aid is procured, shipped, and delivered across the globe to the people who need it most.

The administration plans to move purchases of food aid away from U.S. farmers to foreign suppliers, as well as increase the distribution of cash payments that humanitarian groups receive to buy local food in or near the recipient country. The proposal would also shift control of the more than $1.5 billion in the current program away from USDA to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and provide that only 55 percent of food aid be purchased from American farmers. In addition to taking a key market away from American producers and impacting thousands of domestic jobs supported by the shipping industry, the change would place foreign food aid recipients at risk by allowing purchases from non-U.S. suppliers whose safety and quality are uncertain.

Should the administration’s plan be adopted, instead of malnourished populations receiving bags of U.S.-grown food bearing the U.S. flag and stamped From the American People,” our country’s primary humanitarian effort would be delivered in the form of cash vouchers, with few recipients ever knowing the helping hand came from American taxpayers.

The administration contends that the Food for Peace is inefficient in purchasing, transporting, and distributing U.S.-grown food to populations half a world away. While no one can argue about the need to increase the efficiencies of any government program, NPC and others in the U.S. agriculture sector believe there are ways to make the program more effective without undermining the very purpose of the program: to provide the most basic necessity to those most in need.

American agriculture has played – and should continue to play – a significant role in alleviating world hunger and serving on the front lines of America’s humanitarian efforts. In particular, the Food for Peace program has been successful in linking rural America and U.S. shippers to international communities that do not produce adequate amounts of food for their people.

The U.S. potato industry has provided substantial contributions to U.S. food aid efforts, particularly through the production of a variety of high-quality dehydrated potato products. Not only have U.S.-produced dehy potato flakes and granules proven to be valuable due to their lower cost, versatility, and ease of shipping, dehy products supply key nutrients to undernourished populations.

Dehy potatoes offer a product that complements a typical food basket. For instance, the vitamin C contained in dehy potatoes can assist in making the iron in legumes more efficiently absorbed and used. Dehy potatoes also offer a hypoallergenic food that can be used as the base for complementary feeding of young children during the weaning process. As a source of potassium, dehy potatoes serve to support a person’s recovery from wasting, particularly in the case of diarrhea. Finally, dehy potatoes can be a part of dietary management for symptoms of diarrhea as a “prebiotic,” offering resistant starches that can help to maintain a beneficial balance of gut bacteria.

Beyond nutrition, the ability to rehydrate dehy potatoes with little to no fuel is an important feature in countries like Haiti, where fuel is at a premium and emergency feeding is critical.

The U.S. potato industry supplies just one of many domestically produced commodities that have supported the world’s most successful, most dependable humanitarian assistance program. NPC and our partners in U.S. agriculture encourage Congress to support funding for the Food for Peace program so it can continue to bring strength, peace, and freedom to those who need it most.

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