Spending cuts approved by the U.S. House of Representatives threaten to increase the problems of famine in the Horn of Africa and the feeding of hungry people in the United States, speakers at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, said.

With the House and Senate agriculture committee members scheduled to make their recommendations to the Select or “Super” Committee on Deficit Reduction in Washington tomorrow, symposium participants were warning the potential spending cuts could make a significant difference in world food programs.

“Less than 1 percent of U.S. government spending goes to help reduce hunger and poverty around the world, but the House of Representatives has voted to cut these lifesaving programs by almost 20 percent this year,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, co-winner of last year’s World Food Prize and president of Bread for the World.

Spending cuts for food assistance programs overseas could also have an impact on the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, the organization’s executive director, said in another press conference in Des Moines.

“The United States has always played a significant role in the fight against world hunger, and we believe it will continue to stand with the rest of the world in combating this problem,” she said, responding to a question about the ongoing deficit reduction fight in Congress.

The number of hungry people around the world has gradually declined during recent decades, but turbulence in the global economy and especially high grain prices has increased the extent of world hunger, said Beckmann.

“We are not having to provide food assistance to Ethiopia despite the current drought in that region because of the agricultural assistance that has been provided by the U.S.,” said Beckmann. “Ethiopia is producing much of the food it needs, but that kind of progress will be threatened in other countries if these spending cuts occur.”

With the severe humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa as a backdrop, proposed cuts would take food aid away from about 14 million of the hungriest people in the world, Beckmann notes. The cuts would also reduce agricultural development assistance, “even though this assistance is crucial to overcoming the cycle of famine in that region.”

U.S. government programs for vulnerable people amount to only 19 percent of federal spending, he said, but the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP is facing cuts that could remove 1 million recipients from the rolls and leave 200,000 children without school lunches.

“At a time when U.S. poverty and food insecurity rates are the highest on record, one in five Americans is currently dependent on SNAP benefits to make ends meet,” said Beckmann.

“I urge Congress and the administration to form a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people. Congress can and should reduce the federal deficit without adding to the hardship of poor people in our country and around the world.”