The Food for Peace Act’s purpose was to use America’s vast agricultural surplus to fight world hunger and expand international trade. As a U.S. Congressman from the agriculturally-rich state of Kansas, Bob Dole was an avid supporter of the Food for Peace Act.
Post-war U.S. Surplus
Following World War II, U.S. agricultural surpluses reached alarming levels, and storage of excess grain cost the government millions of dollars per year--even as the food deteriorated and became inedible. A solution had to be found, and in 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act into law.
The program, known as Public Law 480, benefited the U.S. by decreasing food surpluses and by creating new markets for its agricultural products, while also providing many countries with starving populations some much- needed humanitarian aid.
1960s Expansion as 'Food for Peace'
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy expanded the program, renaming it Food for Peace. During his campaign for the presidency, he stated:
“Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping hand to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want.”
The name of the program wasn’t the only change lawmakers made. In the early to mid-1960s, the focus of the program shifted away from surplus disposal and market expansion as U.S. surpluses dwindled. Instead, the new focus became using the food to foster economic development and foreign policy as world hunger and over-population grew.
Bob Dole's Role
Elected by voters from the agriculturally-rich state of Kansas, food was important to Congressmen Dole. His major involvement with the program started in 1966, when he authored an amendment that called for a “Bread and Butter Corps” of farmers from the United States who would travel to developing countries teaching the technical skills needed to grow and sustain crops.
This effort, later renamed Farmer-to- Farmer, became a new provision written into the reauthorization of Food for Peace in 1966. Recipient countries were required to use the money they received from the sale of donated American food surpluses toward increasing their self-sufficiency. Although added to the 1966 reauthorization, the Farmer-to-Farmer piece of the legislation was not funded until 1985.
Excluding Communist Countries
Then-Congressman Dole was also instrumental in further amending the legislation strengthening the U.S. stance against Communism. Dole’s constituents made it known that they did not want food from the U.S. aiding Communist countries, and he was a strong advocate for clear language that would send a message that the U.S. was dedicated to its anti-Communist stance. The bill barred sales of food to countries that conducted any type of commerce with North Vietnam, and also banned sales to countries that provided Cuba with strategic or military materials.
Dole’s commitment to bipartisan Food for Peace legislation continued throughout his years in Congress. He believed in the program and its benefits to both the Kansas farm families he represented and to people facing starvation abroad:
“This constructive use of U.S. farm abundance is one of the most inspiring activities ever undertaken by any country in world history […] The program has helped the U.S. maintain its position as the world’s leading exporter of food and fiber and shares U.S. abundance with friendly peoples abroad, effectively supplementing world agri-cultural trade.”
By its 50th anniversary in 2004, Food for Peace had served 3 billion people in 150 countries, and its work continues today. Early involvement in the Food for Peace program provided a launching pad for future bipartisan programs Senator Dole would champion, including the national school lunch program, WIC, and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme.
In 2008, the Food for Peace Act formally replaced the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act.
To learn more about the Office of Food for Peace, visit the Agriculture and Food Security (USAID) section of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Beckmann, David M., and Arthur R. Simon. Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God's World. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.
Bread for the World. Foreign Aid to End Hunger. Bread for the World Institute on Hunger & Development V, no. 26 (1990).
McGovern, George S. The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2001.
Spitzer, Robert R., and Gregg Hoffmann. What You Can Do to Help the Hungry Feed Themselves. Whitefish Bay: M & T Communications, 1994.
Woods, Richard G. Future Dimensions of World Food and Population. Boulder: Westview Press, 1981.