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Sugar users and growers have Halloween spat

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a nasty exchange between the sweetener users and the sugar growers, would it?

The Coalition for Sugar Reform, which represents the candy companies and other industrial sugar users, today put out not one but two news releases on what must be one of the highest candy-consumption days of the year.

“Here are four scary reasons Congress should reform the U.S. sugar program, one of the last remaining Depression-era ghosts,” the coalition said in the first release, which charged that 600,000 jobs are at stake. It said that for every sugar-growing job that is protected, three manufacturing jobs are lost, that the sugar program costs consumers and businesses $3.5 billion a year, and that consumers “pay a hidden tax on their Halloween treats!”

In the second news release, the coalition noted that, even though lawmakers are busy campaigning, it had sent the above message to Congress, and that the chairs of the Congressional Sugar Reform Caucus — Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Danny Davis, D-Ill. — urge their colleagues to support reform of the outdated program when the farm bill is debated on the House floor.

“No matter how many times they’re called out on it, opponents of reform continue to falsely claim that the sugar program operates at no cost. That’s simply not true,” added Larry Graham, chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform and president of the National Confectioners Association. “The reality is, no matter what costume the sugar lobby puts on it, the sugar program is a tax in disguise.”

But Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, questioned whether the release was appropriate while the eastern part of the country is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“America’s sugar farmers are no strangers to dealing with powerful hurricanes and other weather disasters, which is why we would never send out a petty press release hours after millions of Americans had their lives turned upside down,” Hayes said.

“Government leaders are rightly focused today on helping communities pick up the pieces,” he said. “It’s surprising that lobbyists for some of the most profitable food companies in the world have instead focused on scoring cheap political points, putting U.S. farmers out of business, importing more subsidized foreign sugar, and boosting their already bloated profits. America has more important things to deal with right now than bickering over a successful no-cost sugar policy.”