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Sugar groups take different stands on Shaheen amendment

The Coalition for Sugar Reform, which is supported by candy companies and other sugar users, praised the amendment introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.Y., that would roll back sugar provisions of the 2008 farm bill, while the American Sugar Alliance urged senators not to support it.

The amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Dan Coats, R-Ind., would repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program and give the Agriculture department more flexibility in allowing additional imports and in modifying or suspending marketing allotments.

It would also reduce higher price support levels for sugar growers that were put in the 2008 bill. The sugar program does not involve government payments unless sugar prices fall below certain levels and sugar growers exercise their right to forfeit sugar to the government.

The sugar program has operated since 2002 at no cost to the government, and the bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee does not contain any provisions to change the it, but the users say the program still costs them and consumers money.

“The sugar program’s special status is confounding, especially when it comes at such a high cost to American families, businesses and workers,” said Larry Graham, chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform and president of the National Confectioners Association in a news release.

“The amendment represents true reform of a program that is advertised by growers as ‘no net cost,’ but in fact hits every consumer in America in the pocketbook,” he added in a letter to senators.

“The amendment would harm U.S. farmers as well as poor farmers from developing countries,” said Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the beet and cane growers. “It would not help grocery shoppers; it would harm rural economies; and it could jeopardize the adequate sugar supplies our country has enjoyed while others around the world wrestled with shortages.

“The only beneficiaries of this amendment would be subsidized Brazilian sugar growers and a handful of multinational food conglomerates,” Hayes said. “Sugar policy enjoys broad bipartisan support because it operates at no cost to taxpayers and because it works. Gutting this no-cost success story seems like a steep price to pay so that a few wealthy food companies can increase their already impressive profit margins.”

While the sweetener users have emphasized the impact of sugar prices on small businesses this year, the American Sugar Alliance has organized sugar farmers and lenders under the age of 35 to tell Congress that if the current U.S. sugar policy “were weakened or eliminated during Senate consideration of the farm bill, young sugar producers would exit the business and jeopardize future domestic supplies.”

“Without the next generation of sugar producers stepping forward, the United States — already the world’s largest importer of sugar — would be at the mercy of foreign suppliers for an essential ingredient to our food supply,” the June 4 letter read.

“This would weaken U.S. food security and would hold serious ramifications for food manufacturers and grocery shoppers alike,” the letter said.

Sugar policy, the group said, “acts as a buffer to the most distorted commodity market in the world, and without it, banks would lack the confidence to lend sugar farmers the resources necessary to survive. Restricted access to capital would prove particularly punitive to young growers who often lack the assets and proven track records of our older colleagues,” read the letter.

The young farmers added that they consider the sugar program to be “the primary risk management tool available to our industry.”