(Nov. 18) WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent analysis by a charity organization indicates that funds diverted to drought relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Section 32 commodity purchase program could jeopardize commodity purchase funds mandated in the farm bill.

Section 32 originally set aside $752 million — including $200 million for fruits and vegetables — for commodity purchases.

Bread for the World, a 46,000-member Christian citizens’ movement against hunger, concluded “a close look at past practices, current law and future demands that show that the $752 million drought relief program will soak up whatever might have been available for these commodity purchases in fiscal year 2003.”

The analysis also indicated that USDA would have difficulty even making the required fruit and vegetable buys, said Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“Based on what we’ve seen from USDA and congressional numbers, if the $752 million is allocated for disaster relief, there will be basically no money to do any bonus commodity buys for fiscal 2003,” Guenther said.

Since the lame-duck Congress passed a continuing resolution Nov. 13 that, in effect, forestalls new action until after the new Congress convenes Jan. 11, the likelihood of finding new sources of funding for Section 32 for 2003 is questionable, Guenther said.

“They may be able to transfer money or utilize other funding sources, but it’s going to create another layer of bureaucracy to get this funding approved,” he said.