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Sugar survives major attack, takes small hit

The Senate today rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to end provisions from the 2008 farm bill that made the sugar program more generous, but the Senate later adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., that would make it easier for the Agriculture Department to authorize more sugar imports earlier in the year.

The Chambliss amendment, which would change the Agriculture department’s sugar tariff rate quote decision date from April 1 to February 1, was adopted by voice, a signal that senators had agreed in advance it would go through.

The vote on the Toomey-Shaheen amendment was 46-53. The Coalition for Sugar Reform, which represents candy companies and other industrial sugar users, said they were disappointed, but they also noted “This is the closest Senate vote in decades.”

“Far from a ‘done deal,’ the House now has an opportunity to build on the widespread support for reform and allow open debate on the costs of the sugar program and the merits of reform, both in committee and on the House floor,” the coalition added.

The American Sugar Alliance, which represents beet and cane growers, said the Toomey-Sheehan amendment “would have stripped the USDA of the tools it needs to operate sugar policy at no cost to taxpayers.”

“It would have led to chronic oversupplies of sugar on the U.S. market, jeopardizing jobs and economic activity in rural America,” the ASA said. “And, it could have undermined U.S. World Trade Organization obligations. Senators who helped reject this amendment should be applauded for defeating a scheme designed to benefit only a handful of multinational food companies aggressively lobbying to boost already impressive profits on the backs of farmers.”

The ASA also noted that the Senate on June 13 had rejected another Shaheen amendent that would have killed the program. ASA did not comment on the Chambliss sugar amendment.