Small business now looks to the U.S. Senate to reform a sugar policy that means paying twice as much as their global competition. The bipartisan-sponsored Sugar Policy Modernization Act would do away with a complicated program that limits domestic sugar supplies. The Senate would have to pass enough votes to amend the 2018 Farm Bill.
“For too long, consumers, small businesses, and manufacturers have paid the price for an outdated program that hurts so many and benefits only a few,” said Rick Pasco, president of the Sweetener Users Association and co-chair of the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy. “The sugar program is a complicated bureaucratic mess of price supports, market allocations, quotas, and government guarantees that are ultimately backstopped by taxpayer dollars.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce calculated that the nation loses three manufacturer jobs for every sugar-producing job protected through high sugar prices. There was a loss of 123,000 jobs between 1997 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census. Currently, food and beverage manufacturers from big brand-name companies to your favorite local bakery employ 600,000 workers.
“We’re one of a few food manufacturers left in Baltimore,” said Mitchell Goetze, president and chief operating officer of Goetze’s Candy Company. “When we think about the sugar program, we feel like we’re forced to pay a price” that competitors, who make candy outside the U.S., don’t have to pay. His fifth-generation family business employs 122 people and is best known for its chewy Caramel Creams.
A broad coalition of trade associations, consumer groups, tax-reform think tanks, and environmental organizations support the bill, saying it is long overdue. The current sugar policy dates back to the 1990 Farm Bill. Congress passed reforms of other commodities in the 2014 Farm Bill. The Wall Street Journal called it “the worst farm subsidy” in an editorial.
The opposition — sugar beet and sugar cane growers, processors, refiners, and suppliers — maintain the reform will hurt the nation’s farmers and not save consumers any money.
Twice a decade, Congress votes on the massive farm bill that covers agricultural and food programs. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to amend the farm bill to include the Sugar Policy Modernization Act. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because the House didn’t pass the farm bill.
“We need the security Farm Bill offers to keep my family growing for another generation,” said Rita Herford, a sugar beet farmer in Minden City, Mich. “If my kids choose to farm, I want there to be a business for them to continue that opportunity.”
For now, both sides will have to wait and see what happens to the Senate Farm Bill.