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CPBJ Extra Blog

Sugar rush

By - Last modified: June 21, 2013 at 8:56 AM
Jim T. Ryan
Jim T. Ryan

The sugar war rages on.

Dentists fighting tooth decay? No. Doctors urging kids to eat more fruits and veggies, and to exercise to combat the bulge?

Wrong again.

Today, the field is the halls of gridlocked Washington, D.C.

The battle: whether to repeal the U.S. sugar program that limits how much foreign sugar is imported and sold in the U.S.

The combatants? On one side are candy companies, baked goods companies, and virtually any food processor using sugar. On the other, sugar beet and cane farmers, and sugar processors.

The latest from the Coalition for Sugar Reform, a group of food company associations, tax reform groups and others: state X is being held hostage to a policy benefiting an industry with little or no jobs in state X. Here's their fact sheet for Pennsylvania.

The zero calculation doesn't include sugar distribution, which has several facilities here and employs more than 100 people, according to the American Sugar Alliance, the sugar producers' lobbying group.

Their angle is that Americans will become dependent on heavily subsidized, foreign sugar if limits on imports are repealed as part of a long-term farm bill. That would devastate American jobs, they argue.

On Thursday, the farm bill became the latest victim of Congress's ongoing exercise in political trench warfare, dying in the House of Representatives.

Sugar producers won a small victory. The House also rejected the amendment of Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Lancaster, and others, that would've ended the foreign sugar caps, among other provisions.

It's a blow to local manufacturers, such as The Hershey Co. and Warrell Corp., which had lent their voices to argue for an open sugar market.

Prices might be higher, but how does the program "put at risk 600,000 jobs," as the sugar reformers contest? Are they implying that unless the program is ended, every food company is going to shut down or eviscerate the payroll?

That sounds unlikely, particularly when candy, snacks and any food with sugar sells almost as well as sex in advertising.

Then again, I also understand the natural compulsion of manufacturers for open markets. The companies want to pay less for raw materials, improving margins, spending it on their business, and building local workforces.

Considering the $500 billion farm bill, which governs everything from agricultural programs to food stamps, is crucial to both rural and urban politicians, the war isn't over.

And if you need more evidence, look at what the armies spent to influence Congress.

"Big Sugar" spent more than $41 million in Congressional election cycles since 1990, according to the political money watchdog site

"Big Food" spent more than $46 million on Congressional elections in that time.

Even more money changes hands in lobbying. In 2012, food manufacturers spent $13.8 million lobbying Congress on their issues, sugar reform included, according to OpenSecrets. The industry spent more than that in 2008 and more than $10 million every year in between.

What did the sugar lobby add to the battle? In 2012, $7.9 million. And more than $7 million every year since 2008.

I think they busted out the candy knuckles. This could get licorice. I mean, be a jaw breaker.

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, transportation and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at You can also follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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