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Contorted food aid

August 30, 2007

Re "No thanks, keep your farm aid," column, Aug. 24

Joel Stein was right on target when he called the practice of selling a portion of U.S. food aid to raise cash for programs that fight poverty "a complicated scheme."

Catholic Relief Services has said publicly that selling food aid is inefficient and risky. But refusing these resources would put at risk hundreds of thousands of people we serve in more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The cash raised is utilized for agricultural development, primary healthcare, clean water and basic sanitation -- activities that help people living in extreme poverty pull themselves up one notch and ensure a better future.

Catholic Relief Services is pushing legislators to make more cash available so we won't have to sell food aid to support these important programs. Perhaps refusing on principle to sell food aid might encourage Congress to appropriate more cash to feed the chronically hungry. We are doubtful. But the gesture would undoubtedly cause immediate harm to vulnerable people.

We do not intend to use the people we serve, who are the poorest of the poor, as a tool to lobby Congress.

Ken Hackett

President

Catholic Relief Services

Baltimore

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Stein's criticism of U.S. government international food aid programs is justified. This amounts to one more subsidy for the giant international grain traders who sell their food wares overseas. Family farmers gain little or nothing from these transactions. So why disparage farmers themselves?

Stein's advocacy of local agricultural production in Africa is exactly what Farm Aid advocates for here in the United States. We need more farmers, not fewer, for local, sustainable agriculture and to satisfy growing consumer demand for high-quality food.

There's nothing irrational about valuing good, fresh, locally produced food grown on family farms in your community.

Carolyn Mugar

Executive director

Farm Aid

Somerville, Mass.

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