Sugar prices aren’t so sweet

U.S. sugar regs simply aren’t fair.

crystal lindell
Crystal Lindell

Last week, I downloaded a new app on my phone. RedLaser lets me scan barcodes on any product and then immediately tells me the price for said product at nearby stores and online.  

It’s awesome and incredibly addicting at the same time, and I am no longer above leaving a bottle of shampoo in the aisle at Target so that I can go to Wal-Mart and get the same thing for 40 cents less.

Every penny counts. And that’s exactly the mindset candy makers have when it comes to sugar prices. You see, they’ve all scanned the metaphorical bar codes on the sugar cane plants and realized they get a better deal, well, umm, just about anywhere else in the world.  

Thus, the American Sugar Alliance (a.k.a. the sugar cane farmers) and the Coalition for Sugar Reform (a.k.a. the candy makers) are in the midst of battle.

To sum up, the people who make candy (as well as the people who make every other product requiring sugar) would like the United States government to stop messing with sugar prices, i.e. end price control, tariffs and import quotas. They point to data that show that U.S. sugar prices are 50% higher than the world market price.

The U.S. sugar farmers are obviously against reform, and you can’t blame them, seeing as how it would mean growing a crop without a government-guaranteed price.

This week, the farmers got a little dirty. Running in ad in The Hill newspaper, they claimed “Bit Candy Boasts Bigger Profit Margins than Oil.”

Woah there. Candy is being compared to oil now? What? Where did that come from? Oh, ya, the candy industry, otherwise known as the National Confectioners Association (NCA). 

The ASA quotes none other than NCA President Larry Graham saying, “So many people and so many companies still are entering into the [U.S. candy] business. A lot of people think it’s oil and energy that drives this economy, but it’s candy, it’s chocolate that’s doing well in this economy.”

Graham’s responded today to the use to the quote in the ad, saying his comment was clearly made in jest.  

“No one believes the candy industry is about to overtake the oil industry in terms of size, scope and importance to the U.S. economy,” he says. “The candy industry with hundreds of companies of all sizes, however, is a vital part of the U.S. economy and culture, and the current sugar program jeopardizes our ability to compete fairly.”

So basically the comment was meant to inspire an industry that’s been to Hades and back the last few years. It was meant to tell the world that candy was a safe investment and that even if it feels tough out there, things are finally looking up. Who knew it would end up in an ad attacking the very industry is was meant to inspire?

Graham goes on to talk about the main reason he favors reform in his response.

“Sugar policy hurts hundreds of U.S. candy companies and thousands of other sugar-using manufacturers, especially the small, family-owned companies that are so prevalent in our industry. Meanwhile, a very small number of wealthy sugar producers collect a disproportionate share of benefits from the sugar program,” he explains.   

That goes right along with the main point the candy makers are pushing — higher sugar prices lead to fewer manufacturing jobs. In short, when manufacturers have to pay more for raw materials, they can’t spend as much on labor costs.

Specifically, for every sugar -growing job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, approximately three American manufacturing jobs are lost, according to the Coalition for Sugar Reform, which cites data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But at the end of the day this debate isn’t about profit margins or even jobs.

Rather, the whole issue comes down to one basic idea — what’s fair is fair. And the government has made the business of sugar incredibly unfair.

If there’s a cheaper price for your main ingredient, and you know it, you should be able to get it for less money. That’s called smart shopping and it’s the very foundation of the American economy.

Here’s hoping the U.S. government will see things that way. In the meantime, I’m going to run over to Meijer so I can save $1.50 on a case of water.

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