Resolution on United States Food Policy and International Aid

Posted on: Monday May 21, 2012

Background

The United States Farm Bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation addressing many aspects of U.S. agriculture and food policy, is up for reauthorization in 2012 (see Resolution #7 which affirms RA support of SNAP [formerly known as Food Stamps]. Virtually all international food aid provided by the U.S. is included within the Farm Bill. This year, a coalition of Jewish organizations, including the Rabbinical Assembly, has formed the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group in an effort to bring about needed reforms to the delivery of this international food aid.

Currently, the U.S. utilizes a “one size fits all” approach, in which the vast majority of international food aid is purchased, processed and shipped from the U.S. to distressed areas around the globe. The problem with this approach is that 1) it is financially inefficient, with a quarter of every dollar spent on in-kind food aid being wasted by shipping and procurement costs; 2) it takes too long for food to reach those in need, resulting in unnecessary death and suffering; and 3) flooding local communities with free or highly subsidized commodities destroys local economies and perpetuates a cycle of dependency.

The Jewish Farm Bill Working Group is seeking to make small yet significant adjustments to the international food aid delivery system. In short, the goal is to encourage the U.S. government to adopt a more flexible and efficient approach by enabling the very same U.S. food aid dollars to be used for local and regional purchase as well as vouchers and cash transfers, where appropriate, and to phase out the practice of “food aid monetization,” where U.S. development agencies sell donated food in local markets abroad to raise money for their project. This approach will better utilize existing international food aid dollars, save lives, protect fragile local economies, and have a negligible impact on the American farming sector.

Resolution

Whereas Jewish tradition has articulated from its earliest formulation in the Torah that the community must take care of the poor;

Whereas the Torah teaches us to leave a portion of the sheaves of the field unharvested so the poor may glean (Leviticus 19:9). This obligation was continued by the rabbis beginning in the time of the Mishnah, which established the soup kitchen (tamhui) and the charity fund (kupah),

so communities could distribute food to both the local and the traveling poor (Baba Batra 8b). A sophisticated and expansive societal infrastructure was established to provide aid to the poor. This sense of obligation existed throughout Jewish history and has become a core part of contemporary American Jewish life ;

Whereas Moses Maimonides, the preeminent medieval scholar, taught that the highest level of tzedakah is one where the receiver is able to become self-sufficient (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7);

Whereas the Rabbinical Assembly in 1999 issued a rabbinic letter on the poor, “And You Shall Strengthen Them” (edited by Rabbi Elliot Dorff) solidifying its longstanding commitment to alleviating poverty;

Whereas the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that the need for international food aid will increase by 50 percent over the next 20 years, calling on Americans to maintain our commitment to funding life-saving food aid while investing in long-term solutions to global hunger;

Whereas current US law promotes an outdated food aid approach that is both inefficient and expensive and further promotes aid dependence instead of long-term local food security;

Whereas international food aid represents a very small proportion of U.S. agricultural exports and a more effective and responsible approach to helping communities in need would include greater flexibility to allow for the subsidy of food purchase grown locally or regionally; and

Whereas the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization by the United States Congress in 2012 and provides an opportunity to rectify the issues described above.

Therefore be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly support full funding for international food aid that provides life-saving assistance to the hungry as well as efforts to reform food aid policy to better support long-term solutions to global hunger in the upcoming United States Farm Bill;

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly encourage the U.S. government to adopt a more flexible and efficient approach to international food aid by enabling aid from the U.S. to be used for local and regional purchases and developing local sustainable agriculture so that countries can feed their own people;

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly continue to partner with the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group, a diverse cross-section of Jewish advocacy, denominational and educational organizations inspired by Jewish values, to work for just U.S. food and agricultural policies, to address hunger and to champion food justice and sustainability in the Farm Bill;

Be it further resolved that Rabbinical Assembly, which has already formally endorsed the “Jewish Platform for a Just Farm Bill,” and its partners and constituents, will publicize this statement of shared principles of what constitutes a Jewish vision for a just Farm Bill.

Passed by the Rabbinical Assembly Executive Council, May, 2012