Sugar Coating the Farm Bill

The Washington Post is rightly calling "foul" on a provision of the execrable new farm bill that is wending its expensive and deleterious way through the halls of Congress. There is no reason for the U.S. to produce so much as a gram of sugar, yet Congress has propped up Big Sugar for decades with import restrictions and subisidies.

There was some hope that this cozy arrangement might begin to unravel as provisions of two free trade agreements opened the U.S. sweetener market to some imports from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. But Big Sugar's friends in Congress are rushing to the barricades to prevent this. As the Post editorial notes:

Among the least defensible provisions under discussion is a plan by those lawmakers to prop up U.S. sugar cane and sugar beet farmers. The background to this is long-standing federal protection for sugar, which takes the form not of direct subsidy payments but of interlocking price supports and import quotas. For decades, U.S. sugar policy has hurt sugar farmers and cane-cutters in poor countries and raised prices of candy and soda for U.S. consumers (admittedly not altogether a bad thing, given the obesity epidemic). It has also driven some U.S. candy producers either out of business or overseas.

The 2005 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), as well as newly effective provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, threatened to upset this cozy arrangement by opening a sliver of the U.S. market to sugar from Mexico and the DR-CAFTA countries. A sugar-lobby effort to restore the old status quo failed earlier this year, so the lobby and its Capitol Hill supporters have come up with an ingenious new way to protect the industry: raising the support price for U.S. sugar, already above the world price, for the first time in 23 years, while requiring the federal government to set aside a certain quantity of imported sugar for conversion to ethanol. Never mind the untested economics of sugar-based ethanol production in the United States. The Sweetener Users Association, an organization of sugar-using industries, estimates that the farm bill will add $2 billion to grocery bills over five years. Commodity prices and farm incomes are exploding, imposing higher food costs on American consumers and threatening poor people around the world with outright hunger. Perhaps only in the U.S. Congress could it seem like a good time to compound the problem with a dose of sugar shock.

This is just outrageous. My column on other Farm Bill Follies here.

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  • Calidore||

    ...yet Congress has propped up Big Sugar for decades with import restrctions and subisidies.

    From what I have read it closer to almost two centuries.

  • ||

    The Farm Bill is nothing but naked corruption from beginning to end.

  • TallDave||

    And with gas prices where they are, it's ridiculous we're still slapping huge tariffs on Brazilian ethanol.

  • Neil||

    Did Michelle Obama remember to tell her husband to put Arugula Root subsidies in the bill?

  • Alan||

    Welch posted on this about 1/2 hour ago. It must really be something.

  • Calidore||

    Neil,

    Does the Republican party platform repudiate all agricultural subsidies?

  • Neil||

    McCain has pledged that if he were President, he would veto this bill.

  • ||

    Take the entire Farm Bill out behind the barn and shoot it.

  • Episiarch||

    Neil, arugula is a leaf. I'm sure it has roots but you don't generally eat them.

  • Neil||

    Well Episiarch, Michelle Obama thought you eat the roots. Because when regular folks in Iowa asked her about the price of food, she said "Have you seen the price of arugula root in Whole Foods?"

    As if Iowa farmers shop for exotic organic food at whole foods LOL! Out of touch!!

  • ||

    Who will save us from the Haitians?

  • Calidore||

    Neil,

    Arugula is not exotic. You can buy it at just about any grocery store. Americans have been eating it in increasing quantities for over a decade now.

  • ce||

    Just a shill for Big Sug-

    nevermind.

  • Episiarch||

    Neil, LOL!

    Maybe we can beat "LOL" so far into the ground that even Neil will stop using it.

  • Nothing new||

    Farmers have lots of photos of congressmen with farm animals.

  • ||

    Agriculture subsidies/tariffs are proof positive that the two major parties are both essentially "green" parties in the way that counts the most.

  • ||

    ...(admittedly not altogether a bad thing, given the obesity epidemic).

    The Post editors just had to get that off-topic parenthetical in, didn't they? I hope they get a bunch of poorly written letters to the editor complaining about their enabling obesity in America anyway--the nanny-statists.

  • ||

    Sadly predictable given the campaign contributions Congress continually receives from these groups. When will Reason wake up and stop calling it free speech when it's barely disguised bribery. We in Canada know what a sham "free trade" can be with softwood lumber. Even though it was repeatedly ruled that our exports were not subsidized, the threat of never-ending litigation by the US lumber lobby forced us into a managed trade regimen to protect their interests, of course.

  • ed||

    I don't know any straight men who still use LOL.

  • Kolohe||

    The Post editors just had to get that off-topic parenthetical in, didn't they?

    I was thinking the same thing.

    I know this sounds like Dave W. conspiracy mongering, but I do believe the switch to HFCS from sucrose - due to sugar subsidies - actually contributes to obesity.

    So not only is the parenthetical inappropriate, it's wrong.

  • ||

    There is no reason for the U.S. to produce so much as a gram of sugar

    We don't produce a gram of cocaine here and look how well it sells. It's time the domestic sugar producers(and HFCS pimps) had to deal with the same challenges as the Medellin cartel.

  • Chuck||

    1) Congress pays price supports for sugar cane
    2) cane growers increase cane production using lots of fertilizers
    3) fertilizer runoff flows into Everglades; creates huge mess
    4) Congress (and the State of Florida) pays lots of money to "fix" Everglades.

    5) Profit!! (If you're a cane grower or an environmental engineer)

  • Naga Sadow||

    Kolohe,

    Everyone has someone to pander to . . . in the case of the Post editors it is apparently nanny staters.

  • ||

    "The 2005 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), as well as newly effective provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, threatened to upset this cozy arrangement by opening a sliver of the U.S. market to sugar from Mexico and the DR-CAFTA countries."

    The sugar quota under DR-CAFTA is only about 1% of US supply, so it is not going to make any waves on the price of sugar in the US. The internal price of sugar in Mexico is about as high as it is in the US because the mexican governmente dictates the cane prices at which mills buy sugarcane from thousands of small growers.
    So neither CAFTA nor NAFTA have had an effect on the price of sugar in the US.

  • Taktix®||

    I actually visited the sugar plant in Clewiston, FL a few months ago (to measure their roof).

    They're doing just fine. They provide most of the sugar for Dixie Crystals from the one plant. They even recycle the leftover stocks and use them to provide electricity for the plant and the whole town.

    Why exactly do they need subsidies?

  • ||

    A priest once told me that "you only find whores where you find whoremongers". Seems to fit. Srangely enough, he looked me dead in the eye when he said it.

  • jtuf||

    I just realized, the world would became so dependent on US food exports, partly because US farm subsidies made it difficult for farmers in other countries to compete.

  • jtuf||

    Jimmy Smith, sometimes the whores don't mention finances until the next morning.

  • ||

    We in Canada

    Land of the free, indeed.

  • ||

    Why can't we ever call out the lobbyists and lawmakers by name who propagate these stupid subsidies that most Americans don't agree with? ala Bridge to Nowhere
    Would seem to be the best way to fight it.

  • ||

    Never mind, I see a few names in Matt's article. Good to know who is willing to stick their neck out for special interests.

  • MattXIV||

    Why can't we ever call out the lobbyists and lawmakers by name who propagate these stupid subsidies that most Americans don't agree with? ala Bridge to Nowhere
    Would seem to be the best way to fight it.



    The problem is that the goodies are spread around in such a manner that it actually helps those behind it get re-elected. The sick, sad truth about pork barrel spending/ag subsidies/corporate welfare is that they're immensely popular in the districts of their beneficiaries. This is why campaign finance reform won't have much of an impact on this practice - politicians from a district with heavy representation of a particular industry or another industry that's a user/supplier of it, will generally support subsidizing the industry in question and recieve support from the voters in their district and the prospect of losing their own district's goodies is enough to keep most of the politicians in line. In the case that one of them really needs to vote against one of the big bills for political purposes, if they're in the majority there's normally enough slack that they can work it out so they vote against it with the bill maintaining majority support. Since defecting districts don't get any of the benefits from doing so until they reach a majority of the votes in the legislature, the equilibrium is very, very stable.

  • Extra ! Extra! Ron Bailey Sh||

    For decades, U.S. sugar policy has hurt sugar farmers and cane-cutters in poor countries and raised prices of candy and soda for U.S. consumers (admittedly not altogether a bad thing, given the obesity epidemic). It has also driven some U.S. candy producers either out of business or overseas.

    So according to Bailey, US Sugar policy is partially good in that poor people have to pay above market price for candy and bug juice.

    Why does he write for this magazine?

  • MattXIV||

    Extra ! Extra! Ron Bailey Shills for Big Ag !,

    That was part of a quote from a WaPo editorial. That whole margin change with the line of grey shading is how Reason's website renders block quotes. The "As the Post editorial notes:" is also a pretty big clue.

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