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"Food is a powerful tool in the hands of this government": The Johnson administration and PL 480, 1963--1969

Kristin Leigh Ahlberg, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


American agricultural surpluses prompted the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration to approve Public Law 480, which provided a mechanism for the dispersal of food products through the use of outright grants or concessional sales to foreign governments. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson utilized PL 480, now called Food for Peace, as a foreign policy tool as well as a program designed to confer domestic benefits. Johnson expanded the scope of Food for Peace. During the first half of his term, Johnson remained optimistic that PL 480 and the “War on Hunger” could ameliorate world famine. As surplus stocks ran out and population outpaced production, he insisted that recipient countries would need to initiate self-help measures in order to receive aid. ^ The case studies of Vietnam, India, and Israel indicate that the Johnson administration extended PL 480 aid serve the larger foreign policy goal of containment. In all three cases the administration assumed that American assistance would help protect these nations against communist threats in their countries or regions. In negotiating Food for Peace aid, Johnson frequently ascribed greater importance to a country's strategic position than its need for food aid. The studies also demonstrate the interdependent and pluralistic nature of PL 480 assistance. Discussions of aid often involved other related issues such as population control and water resources. Food aid, in addition, enjoyed popularity with political, farm, and religious constituencies. Lobbying Congress in support of a Food for Peace program that donated commodities for relief and dispatched aid workers to famine-stricken countries, these and other groups illustrated the participation of domestic groups in supporting and carrying out American foreign policy. This study offers a new perspective on these connections and tensions between domestic politics and international relations, focusing on food aid. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Political Science, International Law and Relations

Recommended Citation

Ahlberg, Kristin Leigh, ""Food is a powerful tool in the hands of this government": The Johnson administration and PL 480, 1963--1969" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3092524.