Critics say US sugar program a sour deal for consumers

May 17, 2018 by Andrew Taylor

Food processors, soft drink manufacturers and candy makers are squaring off against the U.S. sugar industry in a familiar battle over a program that props up sugar prices.

The sugar program, a web of price supports, loans and tariffs that critics say gouges consumers, is one of the key battles in this year's farm bill, a five-year renewal of federal farm and nutrition policy that always proves to be a headache for Republicans controlling Congress.

GOP leaders are promoting this year's renewal of the measure as tightening work and job training requirements for food stamps. But the food stamp proposal has driven Democrats away from the bill, scheduled for a vote Friday. That means Republicans have to pass the measure with minimal GOP defections, and it puts pressure on Republicans who have criticized costly farm subsidies in the past to vote for them this time.

The sugar program is part of an amalgam of commodity support programs that have sweeping backing in Republican-leaning farm country. But most Republicans oppose the sugar program, saying it runs counter to the party's free market bearings.

"It's one of the most ridiculous programs in the entire federal government, and that's saying something," said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

Some GOP moderates are uneasy about the new work standards for food stamps, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would drive up to 2 million people off the program.

Currently, adults ages 18 to 59 are required to work part time or agree to accept a job if they're offered one. Stricter rules apply to able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 49, who are subject to a three-month limit of benefits unless they meet a work requirement of 80 hours per month.

The new bill expands that requirement to apply to all work-capable adults, mandating that they either work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week with the exception of seniors, pregnant women, caretakers of children under the age of 6, or people with disabilities.

For years, the twice-a-decade effort to rewrite the farm bill has relied on a coalition of farm-state Republicans who back federal agriculture subsidies and other assistance and Democrats supporting food stamps. This has proved frustrating to conservatives seeking to make changes to either side of the measure.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R.-N.C., is behind a plan that would scrap production limits, give the Department of Agriculture more power to boost sugar imports and eliminate a government program that sells surpluses to ethanol producers.

"Let's be crystal clear about what the sugar program does: It puts the government in charge of deciding how much sugar will be produced in this country, which inflates the cost—and it guarantees the processing industry a base profit by giving them subsidized loans," Foxx said Thursday. "We stopped these practices years ago for other commodities and only sugar is left with this sweet deal."

A vote is slated for Thursday evening.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says Foxx's proposal is a "poison pill" since its passage could bleed support for the underlying farm bill and force Republicans in some areas to take a politically tough vote.

Indeed, a string of lawmakers from Minnesota, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Nebraska rose up to defend the program and the thousands of jobs it supports in their states.

"This is about protecting American jobs, American hard-working farmers from unfair, undue competition from around the world," Conaway said. "We don't let other products come into this country at below the cost of production."

Critics of the sugar program say it has led to the closing of U.S. candy factories in the face of foreign competition and means higher food prices in the grocery aisle.

Passage of the bill is a priority for GOP leaders, who are eager to pitch to voters its tougher work requirements for food stamps, a party priority that polls well with voters.

"This is going to get more people out of poverty. This is going to get more people a steady job. This is going to get more people moving toward a good career," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Powerful forces oppose the move, including large, politically active sugar producers and lawmakers from regions that grow sugar beets and cane. They warn it would open the door to cheaper sugar from overseas and put domestic producers out of business. And they say that sugar costs the same now as it did decades ago while the price of processed food goes ever upward.

Explore further: US health plan advances, showdown vote next week in Congress

Related Stories

US health plan advances, showdown vote next week in Congress

March 16, 2017
The future of US health care faces a moment of truth next week when lawmakers are expected to vote on the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, after the measure cleared a key hurdle Thursday in Congress.

US Republicans struggle to rally around new health bill

May 2, 2017
Republican leaders in the US Congress were on the brink of another humiliating health care defeat Tuesday, as they struggled to wrangle enough votes to pass Donald Trump's latest bid to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Meal deals could undo the benefits of the sugar tax

February 9, 2018
From April, the UK government's sugar tax will make 500ml bottles of high-sugar drinks cost an extra 14p, and two litre bottles an extra 58p. The higher price is intended to steer people towards choosing lower-sugar drinks. ...

Senate Republicans unveil US health bill—but lack votes to pass it (Update)

June 22, 2017
US Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a revamped health care plan aimed at fulfilling President Donald Trump's pledge to repeal Obamacare, but a revolt by four conservatives put the bill in immediate jeopardy.

Trump savors win as House passes Obamacare repeal

May 5, 2017
US President Donald Trump extracted a much-needed victory from Congress Thursday as Republicans narrowly pushed a bill through the House of Representatives repealing the landmark health reforms of his predecessor.

Recommended for you

New study shows higher formaldehyde risk in e-cigarettes than previously thought

May 21, 2018
Portland State University researchers who published an article three years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine about the presence of previously undiscovered forms of formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapor revisited their ...

Insufficient sleep, even without extended wakefulness, leads to performance impairments

May 21, 2018
Millions of individuals obtain insufficient sleep on a daily basis, which can lead to impaired performance and other adverse physiological outcomes. To what extent these impairments are caused by the short sleep duration ...

Sleep better, parent better: Study shows link between maternal sleep and permissive parenting

May 21, 2018
Research has shown that consistently not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can put you at risk for a number of health conditions. But how does sleep, or the lack of it, affect how you parent?

Mediterranean diet may blunt air pollution's ill health effects

May 21, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean diet may protect people from some of the harm of long-term exposure to air pollution, and reduce their risk of dying from heart attacks, stroke and other causes of death, according to new research presented ...

Autism is not linked to eating fish in pregnacy

May 21, 2018
A major study examining the fish-eating habits of pregnant women has found that they are not linked to autism or autistic traits in their children.

Improving heart health could prevent frailty in old age

May 21, 2018
New research has shown that older people with very low heart disease risks also have very little frailty, raising the possibility that frailty could be prevented.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.