Shocking: giant agribusiness is more concerned with lining its pockets than with saving lives.
This time, AIDS patients in Africa are going hungry because the U.S. says they have to buy expensive gruel from heavily subsidized American companies. Never mind the fact that African farmers have plenty of food to spare; what U.S. agribusiness wants, U.S. agribusiness gets. From the New York Times::
Traveling to school in wobbly dugout canoes, Munalula Muhau and her three cousins, 7- and 8-year-olds whose parents had died from AIDS: held onto just one possession: battered tin bowls to receive their daily ration of gruel.
Within weeks, those rations, provided by the United Nations World Food Program, are at risk of running out for them and 500,000 other paupers, including thousands of people wasted by AIDS who are being treated with American-financed drugs that make them hungrier as they grow healthy.
"Not to put too fine a point on it," said Jeffrey Stringer, an American doctor who runs a nonprofit group treating more than 50,000 Zambians with AIDS, "but it will result in the death of some patients."
Hoping to forestall such a dire outcome, the World Food Program made an urgent appeal in February for cash donations so it could buy corn from Zambia's own bountiful harvest, piled in towering stacks in the warehouses of the capital, Lusaka.
But the law in the United States requires that virtually all its donated food be grown in America and shipped at great expense across oceans, mostly on vessels that fly American flags and employ American crews - a process that typically takes four to six months.
For a third year, the Bush administration, which has pushed to make foreign aid more efficient, is trying to change the law to allow the United States to use up to a quarter of the budget of its main food aid program to buy food in developing countries during emergencies. The proposal has run into stiff opposition from a potent alliance of agribusiness, shipping and charitable groups with deep financial stakes in the current food aid system.
I don't know enough about the economics of this issue to have a considered opinion. But I do have a snap judgment: big agribusiness can bite me. American taxpayers give these companies tons of subsidies so they don't have to compete on a level playing field with third-world producers. But apparently that isn't enough for them. No, we also have to force poor countries to buy their food from U.S. businesses instead of developing their own economies, agriculturally or otherwise. That's just a stone's throw from economic colonization.
That said, I do realize there are politics involved. Members of Congress who represent (and take money from) agribusiness have a lot to lose by supporting a change in the way we do charity. Meanwhile, members of Congress who don't represent agribusiness have little to gain from such a change, because the public isn't tuned into this issue. In other words, no politician would be rewarded much by changing the rule; a lot of politicians would be savaged.
That's why it's our job, as citizens, not just to pull a lever every two years or write letters to Congress. Our elected leaders will stick their fingers in the wind before deciding pretty much anything. We must therefore be wind-changers, mobilizing our fellow citizens to make the politicians do what, in an ideal world, they should do anyway.