The Sugar Program Ruined My Valentine’s Day

Feb 15, 2013

Pedro Magana adds sugar to make the shells for jelly beans at the Jelly Belly Candy Co. plant in Fairfield, CA. Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg.

Why do food companies have to pay so much to put sugar in their products?  I thought about this yesterday when I had to empty my wallet to buy Valentine’s Day candy for my mother. I blame the U.S. federal sugar program.

The sugar program has been around since the days your great grandmother was celebrating Valentine’s Day, and it never seems to go away.  In fact, it’s been getting worse.  In 2008, Congress tacked on several new Valentine’s-Day-stifling components in the Farm Bill, including:

  • Increasing loan rates that make the U.S. sugar price much higher than the world price;
  • An “Overall Allotment Quantity” and tariff quotas to make sure sugar-users don’t get a grain of sugar more than they need; and
  • A sugar-to-ethanol program that the Congressional Budget Office believes will cost taxpayers millions.

Sugar price supports haven’t accomplished much beyond making consumers pay $3.5 billion a year more for food, enticing food companies to leave the country, and costing too many jobs.  The U.S. Department of Commerce pointed out that for every sugar-growing job the program protects, we lose three manufacturing jobs

It’s not just candymakers that are suffering – just ask the bakers that need sugar to make bread.  And there are plenty of familiar sugar-using staple foods that are affected, such as condiments, baked beans, barbeque sauce, granola bars, salad dressings and many others.  Food isn’t a luxury item; it’s a necessity.

So you can see now that this is not just about Valentine’s Day.  Most importantly, it’s about the families that are spending more money at the grocery store every day of the year.  Thankfully there’s a broad-based coalition of organizations, including the U.S. Chamber, devoted to the cause of reforming the sugar program, and their sights are set on a reform bill that will let Congress take back all the costly 2008 add-ons I listed above. 

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