05/25/2012 05:02 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

Our Current Global Food Crisis and How We Can Feed 17 Million More People

This year during Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that marks the early summer grain harvest and the giving of the Torah, I am reminded of my commitment to alleviate hunger. Reading about the ancient systems of food aid from the Book of Ruth, I cannot help but reflect on the current global food crisis that has enmeshed almost a billion people in a cycle of hunger and poverty.

You might find it surprising to hear an international service organization like American Jewish World Service say that providing aid to countries and people has had unintended consequences that undermine our goals. But in this case, it's the truth, and the United States needs to ensure that not a penny more of our already small international aid budget goes to waste.

As Congress debates a new farm bill, the central piece of legislation that funds U.S. global food aid programs, we have a short-lived opportunity to reform the flawed system so that it can reach 17 million more hungry people -- at no extra cost. The United States provides roughly 50 percent of food aid worldwide which allows us to play a key role in feeding more people and, ultimately, saving more lives. But we're not making the most of this investment.

So how can we fix this aid system and feed 17 million more people worldwide?

It's wonderful that in 2010, the United States delivered life-saving aid to more than 65 million people. However, current regulations that are in place are outdated and costly, and affect both the efficiency and effectiveness of food aid to the tune of $491 million of misspent taxpayer dollars. These policies serve special interests more than those in need, ultimately wasting taxpayer money and saving fewer lives.

In our increasingly complex world, we can't tackle global problems with a one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, the law requires that the vast majority of food aid be produced in the United States, which slows down the delivery of food by an average of 14 weeks to countries in Africa that need it. If we reformed this, it would allow some aid to be procured from areas nearer to communities in need, a practice that is utilized by most major food aid donor nations. Local and regional procurement would result in faster delivery, lower transportation costs and more familiar -- and nutritionally appropriate -- food for aid recipients. And it would invest in the local agricultural economy.

If we followed the example of other major food aid donors like the European Union and Canada that invest their food aid dollars in local procurement or cash and voucher programs, we could feed the communities we are helping now under our old system plus the equivalent of every person in Michigan, Oklahoma and Iowa combined.

The story of Shavuot is more meaningful than ever as we push for reform in the next farm bill. As we reflect on the harvest this year, the Jewish community and all Americans cannot stand idly by when millions go hungry at home and abroad. The link between food and faith obligates us to challenge the injustice of hunger and champion the rights of all for nutritious food. The reauthorization of the farm bill and the reform of these policies is an opportunity to put these principles into practice.

Please consider signing the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill.