During debate in the House of Representatives in 1954, the legislation was hailed as an important weapon in opposing communist expansion. Public Law 83-480, or PL 480, was signed into law on 10 July 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Among other objectives in the original legislation, Congress declared its intention to expand international trade among "friendly nations," facilitate currency convertibility, and make maximum use of American agricultural commodities to further U.S. foreign policy objectives. A "friendly nation" was defined as any country other than the Soviet Union or a nation dominated by the world communist movement.
The act authorized the president to negotiate agreements with foreign countries to provide for the sale of surplus agricultural commodities, to be paid in foreign currencies. These agreements would be used to purchase strategic materials, satisfy U.S. obligations abroad, "promote collective strength," and further the foreign policy of the United States. The Commodity Credit Corporation was directed to carry out Food for Peace agreements.
Other provisions of the act provided for international famine relief and domestic disaster relief. Congress provided $700 million to carry out the program over three years, plus an additional $300 million for emergency assistance.
In the years since it was initiated, the program has been amended numerous times. In 1958 it was expanded to cover the collection of scientific and technological information and the support of scientific endeavors overseas. That part of the program was moved from the Department of State to the Smithsonian Institution in 1966. Early in his administration, President John F. Kennedy renamed the program Food for Peace and placed it in the newly formed U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID celebrated the half-century anniversary of the program in 2004. By that time, 135 countries had received food aid under the program. The agency now works in partnership with 35 organizations and focuses primarily on sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
William O. Craig
Celebrating Food for Peace, 1954–2004. Washington, DC: I.D. Agency for International Development, 2004.; Craig, William O. Around the World with the Smithsonian. Tamarac, FL: Llumina, 2004.