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Farm Bill Subsidies Could Instead Feed Millions


WASHINGTON, DC ? International agency Oxfam America today called on Congress to muster the political will to shift unnecessary and wasteful subsidies for wealthy farmers to instead help millions of poor people who are now impacted by the global food crisis.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser joined the leaders of humanitarian organizations Mercy Corps and the International Medical Corps to call for urgent action by the Congress to meet the historic challenge posed by skyrocketing food prices.

?Congress and the White House are negotiating a new Farm Bill that will spend as much as $300 billion over the next five years. The bill maintains significant farm subsidies which go overwhelmingly to the largest and wealthiest producers despite the fact that US farm income is at record levels,? said the letter signed by Offenheiser, Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps and Nancy Aossey, president of the International Medical Corps. ?Even a small redistribution of subsidies for wealthy US farmers could make a huge difference in reducing starvation in many parts of the world.?

Faced with a global hunger crisis, Congress has an important opportunity to provide desperately needed funding to help those facing starvation due to high food and energy prices and help head off a global humanitarian disaster, according to the organizations.

?We understand that this represents a major political challenge, but we believe that the dire circumstances warrant dramatic steps and demand leadership,? continued the letter. ?We also know that a humanitarian and development crisis may be averted if these urgent actions are taken.?

Late last week, President Bush called on Congress to provide an additional $770 million in assistance to help address the needs of millions of people in developing countries who face acute hunger and to help improve agriculture so they can feed themselves. But, at the same time, Congress was preparing to slash funding for the McGovern-Dole Program, which feeds school children in developing countries. Restoring funding for the McGovern-Dole Program and responding to the President?s request for added funding are essential. In addition, a simple change in our food aid policy to allow cash for local purchase of commodities also requested by the President would immediately increase the speed and efficiency of food aid programs, providing more food and assistance to people around the world.

?Almost half of all US food aid cost due to bureaucratic restrictions and high transportation costs?, says Offenheiser. ?In calling on the Congress to provide more assistance, the Bush administration has also asked the Congress to allow more flexibility in providing food resources to those in need when addressing food crises.?

If aid agencies were allowed to purchase food aid closer to where it is needed?rather than shipping it thousands of miles from the USA?food could get to more people faster according to Oxfam. This would also encourage local food production that can help avert future disasters.

?As we have witnessed in the past few weeks, high food prices are pushing many more people deeper into poverty. Hunger, poverty, and lack of economic opportunity in developing countries are a human tragedy, but they also have implications for America?s long-term security and prosperity,? said Offenheiser. ?Americans want to help people in need. Pandering to wealthy farmers and special interests at the expense of women and children who face malnutrition is not what Americans expect of their elected officials. There's still time for the Congress to demonstrate leadership in helping avert starvation and social unrest resulting from high food prices."

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