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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Hearing: The Next Farm Bill: The Future of International Food Aid and Agricultural Development

Remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning and thank you all for joining us. 

Before we get started, I wanted to extend my condolences to our friends at Didion Milling. John Didion testified before the committee in September 2015 about the important work they do in milling grain into specially designed food aid products. Unfortunately, one week ago today, Didion Milling experienced a catastrophic explosion that took the lives of three employees and injured several others. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy.

As for our work here today, this hearing builds on the work the committee did last Congress to extensively review international food aid and agricultural development programs. At the time, I was adamant that discussions about potential reforms to the programs occur during the development of the next farm bill. 

That time has come. 

The hearing is also particularly timely given the recent release of the administration’s budget proposal, which calls for drastic cuts to international food aid programs and the elimination of funding for both the McGovern-Dole and Food for Peace Programs.

I know we will hear from several of you today about the shortsightedness of such a proposal. I tend to agree. Americans are big hearted folks who love seeing the U.S. flag on a donated bag of rice. 

As my colleague Chairman Aderholt noted, there should be no shame in using taxpayer dollars to buy American food from American farmers to send overseas to those who literally have nothing else to eat—especially when the proposed alternative, providing cash-based assistance, can result in hard-earned taxpayer dollars being misappropriated or going directly to our agricultural competitors.

International food aid programs not only contribute jobs in the U.S. agricultural sector, but also create American jobs in the manufacturing and maritime sectors. Eliminating such programs seems contrary to the role they play in a robust “America-first” policy. 

While less drastic than the proposed elimination of these programs, I also fear that continued efforts to chip away at the core of food aid programs, and to increasingly turn them into cash-based assistance programs, will ultimately erode the alliance of domestic agriculture and maritime supporters that have long advocated for these programs. 

That said, I recognize, as the president does, that there are efficiencies to be gained within our food aid and ag development programs. In the near term, as we approach the next farm bill, we take seriously the task of looking for ways to enhance the programs in a way that will build consensus and support for their ongoing role in American philanthropy and U.S. agriculture.

Finally, while there will always be emergency needs, the budget constraints we face are real. In the long run, these constraints will require us to increasingly focus on helping other countries make the structural changes needed to better assist their own populations. 

I look forward to hearing from each of our witnesses today on how we can achieve those goals. I now yield to my ranking member, Mr. Peterson for any comments he may have.