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British Food Journal Volume 49 Issue 3 1947

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 March 1947

Abstract

Washington.—The Government of the United States at the Copenhagen Conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation last September firmly supported the twin objectives of Sir John Orr's World Food Hoard proposals of raising the diets of all nations to a health standard and of stabilising agricultural prices at levels fair alike to both producers and consumers. Sir John's specific proposal for a World Food Board was not considered at Copenhagen. Instead, the U.S., the United Kingdom and all other nations represented at Copenhagen unanimously agreed to refer the whole question to a 17‐nation Preparatory Commission which met in Washington from October 28th to January 24th. The Commission was specifically instructed by the terms of reference to consider Sir John's proposal and any other alternative proposals which might be offered. The preparatory commission in its recommendations followed the instructions in the terms of reference and its final recommendations as made public on January 24th containing little of the specific machinery of the original proposals of Sir John's. But the twin objectives of Sir John's proposals were retained in the final recommendations. Had a show down come to Sir John's proposals at Copenhagen, the U.S. would have opposed it. Of this there can be no doubt. As early as August 9th, a month before the Copenhagen Conference, the U.S. Department of State issued a public statement on the Orr proposals. Any doubt as to the U.S. position was dispelled by Under Secretary of Agriculture Norris E. Dodd, who was chief American delegate at both Copenhagen and Washington. In his opening speech before the preparatory commission in Washington on October 28th, Mr. Dodd gave four reasons why the U.S. opposed the Orr proposal. He said: “First, we consider it doubtful whether a World Food Board or any similar device would, by itself, be adequate to deal with the effect that widespread government intervention threatens to have upon the agricultural demand and supply situation over the world once the present emergency has come to an end. Second, we consider it doubtful whether any combination of buffer‐stock and surplus‐disposal operations which contemplates the establishment of a two‐price system can be operated successfully without quantitative controls of supply. In our view such controls are not adequately provided for. Third, there is the fact that price, production and distribution problems differ greatly between different commodities and at different times. An over‐all body such as the proposed World Food Board would not suffice for dealing effectively with these so different and rapidly changing problems, which ought to be dealt with by special negotiations, commodity by commodity. Fourth, Governments are not likely to place the large funds needed for financing such a plan in the hands of an international agency over whose operations and price policy they would have little or no control. In view of these considerations, we believe that it is fortunate that the Copenhagen Conference has given this Commission a free hand to consider alternative machinery for achieving the basic objectives which we all support.” The original Orr proposals called for an internationally‐managed and internationally‐financed World Food Board. It would have bought and sold exportable surpluses at agreed minimum and maximum prices, thus providing a buffer‐stock against fluctuation in price and supply. Excess supplies under the Orr plan were to be sold cheaply to feed chronically malnourished people. FAO would work with such nations and with other international argencics to build producing and buying power so as to remove the underlying causes of poor diets. A statement by Under Secretary of Agriculture Mr. Norris E. Dodd, made on January 24th in connection with the report of the FAO Preparatory Commission on the food proposals, said, in part: “The principal ideas which the U.S. has advanced in the Commission are: (1) That the problems of better diets and price stabilisation mustbe approached in connection with the general expansion of production, employment, trade and consumption, as envisaged in the proposals for an International Trade Organisation, which we consider as complementary to the FAO programme. (2) That particular problems of price stabilisation can best be met through separate but co‐ordinated international agreements covering the specific commodities affected, within the general framework of principles for such agreements provided in the proposed ITO. (3) That under such commodity agreements the participating nations should consider methods of using excess supplies to support special food programmes to improve the diets of the most needy groups in connection with long‐term development plans designed to overcome the causes of malnutrition. (4) That the co‐ordination of national agricultural and nutritional programmes is so important the FAO should bring about annual consultation upon such programmes among the responsible national officials.” The principal U.S. proposals incorporated in the final report and recommendations of the FAO Preparatory Commission published on January 24th may be summarised as follows: The international commodity agreement approach to the stabilisation problem. The use of excess supplies under commodity agreements to support supplemental food programmes for vulnerable groups. Annual consultation of national agricultural and nutritional officials for the purpose of bringing about co‐ordination and integration of national programmes. Appointment of an interim co‐ordinating committee on international commodity agreements to bridge the gap between FAO and the projected International Trade Organisation. Acceptance in the final report of the American proposal for international commodity agreements may be construed as not merely an American victory since the commodity agreements would be negotiated within the framework of the proposed International Trade Organisation. Governments of 18 nations are represented on the ITO Preparatory Committee which met in London simultaneously with the FAO Preparatory Commission sessions in Washington. Here is the basic difference between the Orr World Food Hoard proposals and the final recommendation. Under a commodity agreement, such as provided for in the final report, each nation holds its own reserves, and finances its own operations. It provides for a co‐ordinated system of nationally managed and nationally financed buffer stocks of individual commodities. The Orr proposal envisaged an internationally managed and internationally financed World Food Board operating in many commodities. The U.S. position with reference to tieing in ITO with FAO was set out fully by Mr. Dodd in his October 28th speech before the FAO Preparatory Commission. Mr. Dodd said: “In putting forward its suggestions for an International Trade Organisation, the Government of the United States has had in mind the importance of securing— with the help of a reduction in trade barriers and other measures—a world‐wide expansion in employment, production, trade and consumption. We consider that action toward this end is of fundamental importance to the achievement of the objectives which this (Prepara‐tary) Commission is considering… It is the considered view of the United States Government that the ITO proposals provide a useful starling point for the deliberations of this Commission.” Previous U.S. experience in attempting to solve the riddle of farm surplus in the midst of hunger has been uneven and spotty. Perhaps the worst failure in this regard was the ill‐fated Federal Farm Board created in 1929 to arrest the drastic decline in farm prices. The Board advanced large sums to farmers' co‐operatives which extended loans to its member co‐operatives to induce farmers to withhold wheat and cotton from the market, without, however, controlling production. The Farm Board finally concluded that no such scheme could succeed without control over production, and production control therefore became a salient feature of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. This Act was amended in 1936 to meet the objections of the U.S. Supreme Court, which held it unconstitutional, but the essential requirement of control over production was retained and remains in effect to‐day. The Commodity Credit Corporation, a Government buying and selling agency created in 1933, has succeeded where the Farm Board failed, because the Government has exercised a degree of control over production. At Copenhagen last September, Mr. Dodd referred to the success of the Commodity Credit Corporation in these words: “Some people have expressed fear that stabilisation of farm prices would keep food prices above the reach of many consumers, but in the United States we have used the Commodity Credit Corporation effectively to protect farm prices, and food consumption, meantime, has increased. Furthermore, Commodity Credit stocks have served as reserves against years of bad weather and poor crops—reserves that were welcome indeed during the last war.” The Biblical idea of Joseph—of an ever‐normal granary—wherein surplus farm supplies are carried over from years of good harvest as a reserve against lean years of crop failure and hunger war and popularised in the United States by Mr. Henry A. Wallace during his service as Secretary of Agriculture, 1933–40. Sir John's World Food Board proposal also envisaged this evernormal granary concept, but failed of adoption because of the heavy expense involved, together with lack of adequate controls over production. It was this absence of production control in the Orr plan that led the U.S. to oppose the Orr plan, even though the country was in sympathy with its humanitarian objectives of raising living standards through expansion of consumption.

Citation

(1947), "British Food Journal Volume 49 Issue 3 1947", British Food Journal, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 21-30. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb011421

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