Food for Peace succeeded in facilitating the sale of increasingly large American agricultural surpluses to foreign buyers. It also established the principle that promoting American business abroad was linked to U.S. national security goals and demonstrated the political clout of U.S. agricultural producers.
The Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act (Public Law 480, 83rd Congress) was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 10, 1954, establishing a program to help farmers sell surplus food abroad. When President John F. Kennedy expanded the program in 1961, he renamed it Food for Peace.
The Food for Peace program grew out of the Marshall Plan, which included exporting large amounts of American wheat to European countries recovering from World War II. The main purpose of Food for Peace was initially to address the problem of substantial
Eisenhower was mostly concerned with helping American farmers sell their surpluses when he signed the law. As the number of Americans living in rural areas began to decline, their voting power diminished as well. However, other objectives besides helping rural Americans arose to ensure the continued importance of the program. Though assisting American farmers was still important to him, President Kennedy wanted to use the Food for Peace program as a tool to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals and to reduce global hunger.
The merits of Food for Peace have been hotly debated. Its supporters argue that it has provided food assistance to 3.4 billion people suffering from malnutrition. They also state that it has helped open foreign markets for American farmers while simultaneously obtaining allies needed for U.S. national security interests. Critics contend, however, that most of the program’s funds go to the sale of food to wealthier markets instead of feeding malnourished people. Furthermore, they argue that only a small minority of American farmers actually receive money from the program, and approximately 67 percent of the funds are distributed to the wealthiest 10 percent of American agricultural producers.
Regardless of this debate, Food for Peace has had an impact domestically and internationally. Since its beginning, it has been responsible for exporting more than 106 million metric tons of U.S.-produced food to more than 150 countries. The total cost of the program has been approximately $33 billion.
Picard, Louis A., et al., eds. Foreign Aid and Foreign Policy: Lessons for the Next Half-Century. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2008. Stanford, Claire, ed. World Hunger. Washington, D.C.: H. W. Wilson Company, 2007. Wallerstein, Mitchel B. Food for War–Food for Peace: United States Food Aid in a Global Context. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1980.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Export-Import Bank of the United States
International economics and trade
World War II