"We are extremely pleased to announce today that President Bush has designated USDA as the lead agency for the implementation of this important program," said Veneman. "It is very fitting that this decision be made today, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Foreign Agriculture Service, USDA's lead agency for international food assistance programs."

Veneman said that this new program reaffirms the U.S. global commitment to education, child development and sustainable economic development. By offering a path for poor children to find a better future through education, it is another U.S. investment in helping developing nations in every part of the world build more productive, self-reliant societies.

The new program, authorized in the 2002 farm bill, is named in honor of two leaders who worked tirelessly on its behalf, former Senator Robert Dole and Ambassador and former Senator George McGovern.

In announcing the president's decision, Veneman was joined by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who has been instrumental in forming a bipartisan coalition in the Congress to support the program.

"We appreciate the leadership of Senator Roberts and the enormous bipartisan support this program has received in the Congress," said Veneman. "This program demonstrates America's compassion to improve the lives of children around the world."

Veneman announced that FAS will administer the new program within USDA and that proposed regulations will be issued in the near future. She said a top priority is to put in place an effective, efficient, results-oriented program to help bring educational opportunities and better nutrition to the world's poorest children.

USDA will build upon the successes of the Global Food for Education (GFE) pilot program, working in partnership with other federal agencies involved in feeding programs, as well as support from other nation's to join in the program.

Today, it is estimated that 120 million children around the world do not attend school, in part because of hunger and malnutrition. A vast majority of these children are young girls. The goal of this program is to help change that by providing starving children in impoverished nations with nutritious meals as part of their education.

Veneman said the Global Food for Education pilot program, now in its final year, has demonstrated how much can be accomplished through these types of programs. She citied some successes associated with the GFE program:

  • In Pakistan, where girls often marry young and stay at home, enrollment by girls in GFE schools climbed 32 percent thanks to the school meals and the tins of cooking oil provided as an education incentive to parents.
  • In Bolivia, a GFE school feeding project is being used to organize a wide range of basic services, including teacher training, de-worming of children, dental hygiene, health and nutrition education, water disinfection, tree planting and the development of school gardens.
  • In the Lebanon GFE project, as in many others, teachers report that children have more energy, concentrate better and learn faster since the school meals began, while more parents are learning the value of education, especially for their daughters.
  • In Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, a small pasta factory added 67 new workers as a result of the GFE project, while 65 new jobs were created in an impoverished area in Eritrea and an estimated 150 jobs were saved in Benin.
  • In Kenya, where 1.7 million children are being fed, GFE project coordinators are also working with parents, communities and other donors to build new classrooms, provide housing for women teachers and initiate school-based livestock production and other income-generating activities.
  • In a small village in Bangladesh, mothers are contributing from their meager budgets to provide safe food storage while their children recite a new classroom slogan, 'Drink milk, be smart.'
"Nearly 7 million children in 38 countries have been receiving school meals under the pilot USDA initiative which is in its final year," said Veneman. "The new program being announced today will ensure that we can continue to build upon these successful efforts in other countries to improve childhood education and nutrition."

During the celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of FAS, the Secretary issued a proclamation recognizing the accomplishments of the agency and it's employees. Veneman praised the hard work and dedication of USDA's employees in working not only on behalf of America's farmers and ranchers, but in helping feed impoverished people around the world.

"FAS employees have been on the front lines of efforts to expand the global reach of American food and fiber," said Veneman. "Your hard work has helped open new markets for U.S. foods as well as bring those products to starving people around the world."

For more information about USDA's trade and feeding assistance programs, visit USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service website at http://www.fas.usda.gov/.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com