Leave Agribusiness Lobbyists ALOOOONE!!!!

Agribusiness is Very Sensitive
Agribusiness is Very Sensitive

A few weeks ago, I posted about the Obama Administration’s effort to change outrageous and wasteful food aid rules that line the pockets of agribusiness and shipping companies.  The more you look at the absurd policy preventing USAID from purchasing food locally for famine relief, the worse it looks: it wastes money, it prevents getting food to people that need it, it undermines local agriculture, and it despoils the environment.

I didn’t think it could get any worse.  But the lobbyists have outdone even themselves this time!  Reuters has the story today:

A White House plan to modernize the major U.S. food aid program, by donating cash rather than American-grown food, is in trouble after fierce lobbying by farm groups, food processors, shippers and others who set out to sink the idea months before it was unveiled in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget…

In pressing the case to shift more aid to a cash system, the White House and the U.S. Agency for International Development have highlighted the potential ability to feed up to 4 million more needy people each year at a lower cost. Several major aid groups, including Oxfam America and CARE, favor such changes….

Commodities shipped under the Food for Peace program “currently account for less than two tenths of one percent of U.S. agricultural production and about one half of one percent of U.S. agricultural exports,” the White House estimated.

“Exports via food aid are a small drop in the market,” said Veronica Nigh, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Our concern is less about decreasing an important revenue stream for U.S. agriculture. It’s more about the loss of a sense of pride.”

Well, how touching.  All these commodity groups, agribusinesses, shippers, and food processors don’t stand to lose much money, and they admit it.  But you see, they will lose their sense of pride.   Obviously, then, 4 million people should go hungry.

What’s more outrageous?  That we have such a policy; that those who support it can so blithely make these kinds of arguments; or that they might still win?  Inquiring minds want to know.  In the meantime, this is a no-brainer: the current system is about the purest form of special interest legislation conceivable.  In Kevin Drum’s words, “Call your congress critter today and tell them, for once in their benighted careers, to just suck it up and do the right thing.”


Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

10 thoughts on “Leave Agribusiness Lobbyists ALOOOONE!!!!”

  1. Sugar producers are the worse. They are about 2% of total agricultural production, but spend about 30% of the dollars spent on agriculture lobbing. And the favorable treatment they get from government cost consumers about 3 billion dollars a year.

    1. Maybe so. But w/o links to a credible source everything you write is mere hearsay.

      1. Well, for what it’s worth, it would still be hearsay even with links. Pretty much everything on the Internet is hearsay.

      2. Hmmm … Jonathan cites a Reuters news story QUOTING the lobbyist, and he also provides a link to read the whole Reuters story.

        I’m trying to figure out your comment. Perhaps you don’t feel the Reuters News Service quoting the lobbyist is a “credible source.” Alternatively, I’m trying to figure out your nom de plume, which sounds like it ought to be “Another fake critic.”

    2. and the narrow interests of sugar producers are sedulously protected by the unholy trinity of Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D FL), Mario Dias-Balart (R FL), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL)

  2. This is blatantly false. The chief opponents to the Obama proposal are the charitable and faith-based organizations such as World Vision. This is because the Administration proposal will drain the food aid funding out of the most reliable, transparent, and dependable aid program and throw it down the rat-hole of direct cash transfers to recipients in developing nations. There is no structure, no legislation, and no accountability under the President’s proposal. It is wasteful, inefficient, and dangerous. This is a huge Executive Branch lobbying campaign to seize power over this money to reprogram it the way they see fit without restraint of law.

    1. Did you read the original articles? About how food aid that is mandated to come from US farms is too slow, too far for effective famine relief.

    2. @Logan — Not true. The chief opponents are shipping interests like the American Maritime Council and Sealift, and commodity interests like the American Soybean Association. The Reuters piece doesn’t even bother to quote the supposed charities that back the status quo because the reporter knows who is behind the status quo, and it isn’t charities. CARE, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, American Jewish World Service, Bread For The World, the ONE Campaign, and virtually every other charity doing work on the ground supports the changes. You are right that World Vision is an outlier, a condition that has more to do with World Vision’s internal politics than anything else. And there is a reason why the vast majority of charities want the changes: because they don’t like 20% of the money going to shipping interests, more than one-third of the money for grain going to subsidizing US agribusiness rather than curing hunger, and the time shipping food from the US causing death in the Global South.

      FWIW, this change was also supported by the Bush Administration, and Andrew Natsios, who ran USAID under Bush, strongly supports the reforms.

  3. Because food markets are not completely globalized (and because you wouldn’t effectively be sequestering inventory for the time of shipping) this policy could also exert a slight downward pressure on US food prices, and dampen volatility. I wouldn’t have any idea who profits from those things.

  4. If I am a charity, I will want to have my money spent most efficiently by local purchase. If I am the US gov’t, I do what Congress tells me. If I am Congress, the loudest lobby voice for spending money for food aid goes away if it can be locally purchased. I’m not at all sure that making this change doesn’t result in US appropriations for food aid going way down because US agribusiness no longer cares about it.

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