President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Farm Bill: Vultures Feed on Sugar While Kids Go Hungry

First, this sugar story has nothing to do with obesity. It is a story about how the GOP has adopted Romney's Bain Capital approach to setting policy for the folks that produce cane or beet sugar under an archaic set of rules, supported by a handful of powerful rural Members of Congress.  It is a great story about the dysfunctional Congress, which rewards off shore multi-millionaires while slashing food aid for the nation's poorest urban school-aged children in order to balance the congressional budget numbers.

Sadly, it is a story that has been told before, every five years when Congress "reforms" farm policy. It is like that line from Casablanca, "go round up the usual suspects." Consumer groups, hunger organizations, environmentalists and yes, the self-serving food industry, ban together to try to "modify" the sugar program which is designed to keep US sugar prices high, well above world prices. There is no free market at work here, Congress and the USDA fix prices. If this kind of brazen activity took place in the private sector, the Justice Department's anti-trust division would be working overtime.

This year the GOP faces a daunting challenge - how do you support vast reductions in spending, including money for the farm bill and still bring home the bacon? The answer would warm Romney's heart. The rural members continue to keep sugar prices up, restrict much lower sugar imports, and they slash food aid for poor children in cities. It is a bi-partisan transgression. No "red" or "blue" states, just rural members "log rolling" against urban members who represent hungry children. GOP and Democratic Presidents have had more pressing matters to attend to when sugar pricing is under review.

This year presents the best alignment of the moon and the stars in recent memory. U.S. demand for sugar continues to far exceed domestic production capacity. Food manufacturers are abandoning high-fructose corn syrup for pure evaporated all natural cane juice. Such a nice name for a sugar that delivers the same caloric content as the "bad" HFCS. After fighting  the nutrition facts, the marketplace prevailed. To Hell with the nutrition science, give consumers what they want - a natural, pure source of sweetness.

Will Congress change the policy? Will USDA willingly allow more world sugar in? Who knows? And, who cares, except the growers who feed on federal support and the food companies that have to absorb or pass along the price increases to consumers?

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