Why Sugar Policy is Not a Sweet Deal for America

Americans consume a lot of sugar. A February 2014 Los Angeles Times article cites an AMA Internal Medicine study which states that 71 percent of Americans get more than their ten percent of recommended daily calories from added sugars in foods and beverages. Despite it being an American staple, most have no knowledge of the unsustainable politics behind sugar and that sugar policies are a large part of American agricultural policy – with negative health and economic impacts within the United States and globally.

The United States is one the largest producers of sugar in the world. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), since the 1980s U.S. sugar production has risen from an average of 6 million short tons, raw value (STRV) to an average of 8.1 million STRV in the 2000s. American sugar primarily comes from two sources: sugarcane and sugarbeets. Sugarcane is a grass that grows in tropical and semitropical climates. Sugarbeets are a root vegetable that is planted annually and grown in temperate climates. Most sugarcane is grown in four states: Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii. Sugarbeets are grown along the Mississippi River, the Great Plains, and the Far West. The largest region of sugarbeet production is in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, which according to the USDA, accounts for 55 percent of U.S. sugarbeet production. This is important because two regions of the country control sugar policies for the entire country.

Large sugarbeet and sugarcane producers organize themselves into cooperatives and associations in order to lobby lawmakers and pursue policies favoring the industry. Among the most prominent cooperatives in the U.S. are the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, and the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Each of these entities represent thousands of sugarcane and sugarbeet farmers and influences policy and the U.S. market. Sugar policy in the U.S. is an important part of American agricultural policy. Sugar policy is laid out in the Farm Bill, which was just renewed in 2014. The U.S. sugar programs provide a price guarantee to the processors of sugarcane and sugarbeets. The USDA is also directed to operate this program at no cost by limiting the amount of sugar for food use in the U.S. To do this, the USDA uses four techniques authorized by the farm bill: price support loans at specific levels (which provide the basis for the price guarantee), marketing allotments to limit the amount of sugar each processor can sell, import quotas that limit the amount of sugar that can enter the U.S. market, and sugar-to-ethanol backstops incase a sugar surplus fails to develop. Each of these four policies works to limit outside sugar and keep domestic sugar prices high.

Sugar policies in America do not make economic sense and are not beneficial for the health of Americans. As a result of federal sugar policy, domestic sugar producers have sugar surpluses, making sugar readily available. This is at a time when according to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. has 25.8 million people living with diabetes and projects that by 2050, one in three American adults will have diabetes. Economically, the only people who profit from these policies are rich sugar companies, cooperatives, and producers, which kept domestic sugar prices artificially high, with the USDA posting $280 million losses on sugar programs according to the Washington Post. The U.S. should end these subsidies to give Americans a fair deal and a healthier future.

SOURCES

Centers for Disease Control. “Successes and Opportunities for Population-Based Prevention and Control At A Glance 2011.” http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/ddt.htm#aag/

Editorial Board. “U.S. sugar subsidies need to be rolled back.” Washington Post. 25 Nov. 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/us-sugar-subsidies-need-to-be-rolled-back/2013/11/25/6082490a-53af-11e3-9fe0-fd2ca728e67c_story.html.

“Formation of SMBSC.” Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. Date Accessed: 21 Sep 2014.  http://www.smbsc.com/OurCooperative/history.aspx.

Hughlett, Mike. “American Crystal Sugar lockout ends.” Star Tribune. 28 May 2013. http://www.startribune.com/local/209279061.html.

“Imperial Sugar Company Dust Explosion and Fire.” U.S. Chemical Saftey Board. Date accessed: 21 Sep 2014. http://www.csb.gov/imperial-sugar-company-dust-explosion-and-fire/.

Jurenas, Remy. “Sugar Program: The Basics.” Congressional Research Service. 1 Apr 2014.

“Our World About Us.” ASR Group. Date accessed: 21 Sep 2014. http://www.asr-group.com/about-us/our-world/index.html.

Southern Minn Beet Sugar Co-Op. OpenSecrets.org. Date Accessed: 21 Sep 2014. https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/expenditures.php?cycle=2014&cmte=C00166348.

“Sugar Lockout Comes to Sweet Conclusion for Employer.” Business Management Daily.  30 Jun 2013. http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/35499/sugar-lockout-comes-to-sweet-conclusion-for-employer.

“U.S. Sugar Production.” United States Department of Agriculture. 9 Oct 2012. Date Accessed: 21 Sep 2014. http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/sugar-sweeteners/background.aspx#.VB76w0tmlj4

“Who We Are.” American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Date Accessed 21 Sep 2014. https://www.americansugarbeet.org.

“Who Are We.” Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. Date Accessed: 21 Sep 2014. http://www.scgc.org/xwho.html.

 

Andrew Postal

Andrew is a former CCT Graduate Student.