Charity Rejects U.S. Food Aid to Protest Farm Bill

Published November 1, 2007

One of the world’s largest charities has rejected millions of dollars of U.S. government financing because of its objections to U.S. farm policies.

“Our farm policy undermines the very thing we’re trying to accomplish, which is [to] help these countries develop strong economies,” said Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE, which provides aid to more than 60 developing countries.

Turned Down $45 Million

CARE this year has rejected $45 million in federal aid to distribute tons of heavily subsidized American farm products in African countries. The American farm products are so heavily subsidized they undercut local farmers and drag down economies that are largely agricultural, Gayle said.

For more than a decade the United States government has been buying American farm products and shipping them overseas, where they are donated to private food aid groups as an indirect form of financing those organizations. The groups sell the products and use the money to finance their anti-poverty programs. The process is called monetization.

Gayle said CARE officials have concluded monetization does more harm than good.

“We actually made the decision [to turn down federal assistance] over two years ago, based on our research and the research of many others that this is both an inefficient way to provide aid, as well as harmful for local farmers,” Gayle said. “We felt it was counterproductive to our overall goals.”

Aid Organizations Divided

CARE’s move to reject federal help grabbed international headlines this summer because the U.S. farm bill is up for renewal. The decision by a large and respected aid organization has brought increasing attention to U.S. farm and food policy.

It also has divided aid organizations. Members of the Alliance for Food Aid, which includes the American Red Cross, World Vision, Inc., and Feed the Children, Inc., disagree with CARE, arguing U.S. food aid protects poor people from spikes in food prices. They also say monetization of U.S. food products helps aid organizations fund programs in land and water conservation, diversification of crops, and agriculture marketing, all of which boost the success of local farmers.

Press coverage of CARE’s decision has been largely balanced and often positive, according to Gayle.

“We weren’t expecting all this attention,” Gayle said. “We’ve been surprised and gratified by the positive response. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. People are sending in checks and letters of support. We had no idea so many people would understand the policy impacts of this.”

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.