Why there's a storm brewing about global food aid from the U.S.

A woman carries a bag containing rice donated by the United States Agency for International Development, as she walks through a market in Haiti. There’s a debate on Capitol Hill as the Farm Bill comes up for renewal: Is it better to send food grown by U.S. farms to countries in need or to turn to local growers. Workers for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti got a stomach-turning surprise last year when they swung open the doors of some 20-foot-long shipping containers. Insects had infested thousands of bags of food. None of the sorghum or milled corn and soybeans, donated by the U.S. government, was fit for human consumption. “I may have cried,” says Beth Carroll, the CRS representative who’s responsible for managing the Haiti food aid program. In all, she says, about 310 metric tons of food was lost. The culprit seemed obvious. Because of ongoing chaos in Haiti, those containers had been sitting in the country’s port for weeks, increasing the risk of spoilage. Questions raised about U.S. food aid But Lora Iannotti , a nutrition and public health researcher at the Washington University in St. Louis, saw a deeper cause. Iannotti, who has worked in Haiti for decades, says the episode illustrates persistent problems with U.S. food aid. “It’s this facade of doing good,” she says, while also serving a less altruistic goal: Putting cash into the pockets of U.S. farmers by buying their grain and shipping it abroad. Organizations in Haiti had previously questioned the wisdom of shipping U.S.-grown food there. They said the country had limited capacity to store imported grain, and feared the imports would actually discourage local food production. They’d proposed using locally grown food instead, but this isn’t allowed under the rules that govern U.S. food aid for “non-emergency” situations, such […]

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By Donato