Opinion

Sugar reform's record ― neither sweet nor savory

October 5, 2011
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Recently, the existing U.S. sugar program has been getting much more scrutiny by not only those paying higher prices ― consumers as well as the confectionery and baking commodity buyers ― but from our politicians as well. Oh wait, is there an election coming up?



By Bernie Pacyniak
Editor-in-Chief

Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl
And you've got me wanting you.
Honey, ah sugar sugar
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you
 
Younger readers may not remember this bubblegum hit of 1969 by the Archies, but the opening lyrics struck me as somewhat appropriate for a discussion about today’s U.S. sugar program.

Clearly, sugar remains a critical ingredient to confectionery and bakery manufacturers. Both need and want sugar.

Having access to domestic supplies ― while noble in thought ― has proven to be a problematic and costly effort by the U.S. government. It’s also proved to be problematic and costly to candy makers and bakers.

Recently, the existing U.S. sugar program has been getting much more scrutiny by not only those paying higher prices ― consumers as well as the confectionery and baking commodity buyers ― but from our politicians as well.

Oh wait, is there an election coming up?

For example, Indiana’s Republican Senator Richard Lugar recently paid a visit to the Albanese Candy Co. to not only look at how gummie bears are made, but to express his support for the Free Sugar Act of 2011, which would eliminate the existing federal program that controls American sugar supply.

Earlier in the year, Republican Congressman Robert Dold visited Jelly Belly Candy Co.’s North Chicago facility to hold a press conference urging passage of sugar reform legislation.

Moreover, there’s been a flurry of activity regarding legislative bills involving sugar reform: The SUGAR Act introduced jointly by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); The Free Sugar Act of 2011 introduced by Senator Richard Lugar (R –IN) and the Free Market Sugar Act introduced by Representatives Joe Pitts (R- PA) and Danny Davis (D-IL).

Damn, given all this bipartisanship and candy love, you’d think we could get this easily passed.

But if there’s a bit of skepticism is seeping through your screen, forgive me. I’ve been covering ― on and off ― the Farm Bill and sugar reform going back to 1982, when I first started working for Bakery Production & Marketing magazine.

During that time, I don’t recall any sugar reform legislation having a chance at passage.

And despite the current numbers cited in favor of reforming the current sugar program ― 112,000 U.S. jobs have been lost since 1999; U.S. sugar prices are double compared to world sugar prices; and the program costs U.S. food companies and taxpayers more than $2 billion annually ― I’m pessimistic that anyone’s doing the math.

Nevertheless, in talking to industry insiders, I sense that there’s a real groundswell building for sugar reform, that this time Big Sugar lobbyists won’t be able to derail a coalition featuring consumers, retailers and manufacturers.

As some of you may know, I ― like so many American sports fans ― love and bet on the underdog. (Picked the Jets over the Colts in 1969). So why am I not more gung ho about this year’s push to reform our government’s sugar policy?

Maybe it stems from this Congress’ track record. When I read about how hard a time our politicians had funding emergency relief, much less government services and that some legislators boast they weren’t elected to compromise their beliefs, much less their pocket books, I quickly slide back into my cynical and cranky old editor mode.

I’d like to think I’m wrong, particularly when I read the fact that the sugar price support system delivers 42% of the program’s benefits to 1% of the sugar farming community.

Trust me, I want to believe we can reform U.S. sugar policies. So make me see the light; write to your Congressman/woman.

I truly do want U.S. sugar to be candy’s girl.

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