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Agriculture News As It Happens

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Sugar program extended, but challenges remain

Sugar growers won a victory in last week’s farm bill when the Senate Agriculture Committee extended the current sugar program for five years, but Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., announced plans to offer an amendment on the sugar program when the bill comes to the Senate floor, and 15 groups today called for sugar to be included in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

“The committee overwhelmingly agreed that America’s popular no-cost sugar policy should be continued,” the American Sugar Alliance, which represents cane and beet growers, said in a news release. “This is great news for the 142,000 Americans employed by sugar; great news for the country’s food security; and great news for taxpayers who will continue to receive an ample and affordable sugar supply without government cost.”

The alliance also urged passage “in a timely manner so that a new farm bill can be in place before the 2013 crop year.”
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
Lugar said in a news release that even though he voted in committee to approve the farm bill and send it to the Senate floor he will offer when the farm bill comes to the Senate floor.

“Though Big Sugar claims the program has no net cost, it imposes a hidden tax of billions of dollars annually on consumers and businesses,” Lugar said.

Lugar is a sponsor of a bill to eliminate the sugar program.

The Coalition for Sugar Reform, which represents the confectioners, bakers, cereal manufacturers, beverage makers and dairy companies that use sugar, expressed “disappointment that the outdated and anticompetitive U.S. sugar support program was given a five-year extension” in the markup.

Today 15 groups in the coalition sent Trade Representative Ron Kirk a letter urging him to allow freedom of trade in all agricultural commodities,including in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Many sectors of the U.S. economy that rely on trade are denied export opportunities because of the special treatment that we provide to U.S. sugar growers (e.g., excessive protection of U.S. sugar growers comes at a cost in minimized market expansion for U.S. rice, beef, pork, corn, soybean and other commodity exports),” the letter stated

The letter was signed by sugar users and other industry groups, but not by other commodity groups.

Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, said he was not surprised at the coalition letter.

“The fact that multinational food conglomerates want to leave our country dependent on subsidized foreign sugar imports is nothing new,” Hayes said.

“Their aggressive and expensive lobbying campaign targeting U.S. farmers seems a bit extreme considering that America’s current sugar policy has operated at no cost to taxpayers and has ensured adequate supplies at a time when many countries wrestled with shortages.

“It is likewise disingenuous for them to say sugar policy harms grocery shoppers,” Hayes said. “Sugar prices have fallen 20 percent since the summer of 2010, yet these same food manufacturers haven't passed along any savings. In fact, they've increased grocery prices to further pad their profits.”