US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate last January, co-sponsored by Mark Kirk (R-IL), which was intended to phase out the sugar support program, claiming sugar prices are artificially high and cost American jobs.
Despite the Senate’s rejection of the amendment, the Coalition for Sugar Reform – which represents the interests of sugar users, including confectioners – said the close vote was heartening. The last time the Senate voted on sugar reform, it voted 71-29 to keep the program.
“Although members of the Coalition for Sugar Reform are disappointed that the Senate voted today to table the Shaheen amendment by a 50-46 vote, we are encouraged that on a bipartisan basis, nearly half the Senate clearly sees the need to debate and reform current US sugar policy,” the coalition said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the American Sugar Alliance, which represents the interests of sugar growers, welcomed the vote.
“Today's vote to reject an amendment that would have repealed US sugar policy is great news for taxpayers and grocery shoppers as well as the country's food security,” the alliance said.
“As many senators noted, the current system operates without taxpayer expense and US grocery shoppers enjoy prices that are well below the world average. Senators voting with sugar producers today should be applauded for their hard work and commitment to America's farm families."
Sugar producers have consistently argued that the current sugar policy is ‘no-cost’ and helps to safeguard domestic supply. They do not receive direct payments as a result of current sugar policy, but the government can restrict the amount of sugar that US sugar farmers can sell, restrict the amount that the US will buy to the level required by trade obligations, and divert excess sugar to ethanol production, in an effort to keep prices stable for US producers. The policy was set with the 1981 Farm Bill.
The Coalition for Sugar Reform said that it would continue to support an amendment to the bill that would “roll back some of the worst aspects of current sugar policy, without completely repealing the program.”
In 2006, the US Department of Commerce was tasked with investigating whether food manufacturing and sugar refining jobs had been moved overseas as a result of US sugar policy. Its report concluded that “for each one sugar growing and harvesting job saved through high US sugar prices, nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs are lost”.