Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cutting Some of that Red Tape

I was reading recently (here, in NPR's food blog) that there's research that favors using local foods as the more efficient option when administering aid. Which is contrary to current policy. Currently, it is required that we Americans "Buy American" for the rest of the world. It was a policy developed to promote the interests of domestic agriculture. A little extra cash in Farmer Joe's pocket wasn't so bad, when the government would buy his grain and distribute it to foreign aid organizations. But this has evolved into a system that largely benefits large crop-specific (often for GM crops) and shipping lobbies, instead of  Farmer Joe, the family farmer, or agriculture as a whole.

Since 2008, 75% of all food aid, paid for by the U.S. government has been required to be purchased from the U.S. and shipped on  U.S. preferred vessels. Before that, 100% was purchased and shipped from the states. This costs a lot of time and money. When it takes a long time to get food to hungry people, food organizations are forced to face more extreme bouts of hunger than they would have to if the food were more readily available. It's estimated that we could cut off 14 weeks of waiting for a response to a crisis. Imagine having to wait 3 1/2 months for fresh food after an earth quake.
Changes could be made to Farm Bill that would speed up the process and feed 17 million more food than we do now - with the money we are already spending. Only 47% of the food aid budget goes to actual food - the rest is red tape, shipping, overhead, markups for growing and shipping regulations.

Letting the people have a little more say in where their food comes from could do a lot of good. The people would feel comfortable with the food their provided - local foods being the familiar sort. Aid organizations would be better prepared to respond quickly in the event of a crisis. Local farms would be supported, and these people could start working their way toward their own sustainable foods systems, economies. That sounds like a lot of good. But then how much of aid work should be in line with foreign policy and trade?

Here's an online form to Tell Congress to cut the red tape. Or follow this link to find contact information for your congress members, if you'd like to write a more personal letter.

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