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WASHINGTON, DC ? International organization Oxfam criticized the leadership of the US Congress today for missing the opportunity to shift subsidies from wealthy farmers to the poor and others in need, finalizing a Farm Bill that continues the broken status quo instead.
?Faced with a mounting food crisis at home and abroad, Congress had the opportunity through the Farm Bill to shift funds from wasteful agricultural subsidies for large scale farms to food aid to meet the needs of the poor,? said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. ?But instead, Congressional leaders settled on a bill that will continue to be costly to taxpayers, undermine our rural economy, damage our trade relationships, and hurt the world?s poorest farmers.?
Even with record breaking prices for corn, soybean, and wheat, as well as record-setting agricultural exports, congressional Republicans and Democrats fought to the bone to prevent any meaningful reforms subsidies that are fiscally irresponsible and harm farmers in developing countries. Across the country, from the left and the right, from San Francisco to Des Moines, Americans have spoken out in favor of changing a system that rewards those who need help the least. Unfortunately, their voices were blatantly ignored by the leadership.
?With the future of the world trading system at a critical juncture, an improved American Farm Bill would have helped facilitate a WTO agreement to reduce trade-distorting agricultural subsidies and end dumping,? said Offenheiser. ?But the pigs at the trough continued to promote generous handouts from taxpayers instead, even as agriculture markets are so strong and our economy so weak.?
Despite mustering the necessary increases for domestic nutrition programs, Congress failed to meaningfully address the crisis of rising food prices overseas and the need to increase the efficiencies of our food aid programs. Current law requires that food aid be purchased in the US and transported on US-flagged ships, meaning that food aid takes months to deliver and costs twice as much. Shifting a quarter of the food aid budget to cash for purchase from regional sources as proposed by President Bush would mean that even more people would be fed.
?Congress should modernize the US food aid program to permit at least one-quarter of US food aid contributions in the form of cash rather than commodities, as requested by the Administration and endorsed by international aid and humanitarian organizations. This reform will help aid agencies respond to emergencies,? said Offenheiser. ?While the Bush Administration proposal would have made approximately $300 million available for local purchase each year, the farm bill only includes $60 million for a small pilot project to be administered over several years.?
While accomplishing little reform, the final bill does make incremental improvements by increasing nutrition and conservation funding and providing a host of critical provisions beneficial to socially-disadvantaged producers here at home. Oxfam also welcomed the extension of US trade preference programs for developing countries, like Caribbean Basin Initiative, also included in the Farm Bill package.
?Some steps were taken to hold back the legacy of discrimination that has lingered on farm programs for decades and to extend duty-free programs for some of the poorest countries in our hemisphere,? said Offenheiser. ?But on the verge of a massive food crisis, Congressional action on the Farm Bill to allow special interests and bureaucracy to deprive poor and vulnerable people food is simply unconscionable.?