WASHINGTON -- An effort by food and beverage makers to reform a federal program that protects domestic sugar producers from foreign competition was defeated Wednesday in the House Agriculture Committee, reported The Los Angeles Times.
By a vote of 36 to 10, the committee opposed an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that would have allowed more imports of foreign sugar, making it less expensive for food and beverage companies to buy the ingredient.
A similar amendment was narrowly defeated in the Senate when that chamber passed its farm bill last month. The food industry had hoped for better luck in the House.
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In response to the House Agriculture Committee's defeat of an amendment offered by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) Wednesday to make reforms to the U.S. sugar program, the Coalition for Sugar Reform said in a statement, "We are deeply disappointed that the House Agriculture Committee chose the status quo over commonsense reforms that would save U.S. consumers billions and create thousands of new U.S. jobs, but we commend Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) for his leadership in supporting sugar reform.
"But the fight for sugar reform is far from over. We know that reform-minded members of the House are committed to pressing for sugar reform on the floor, and we will redouble our efforts to urge Congress to enact reforms.
"We urge Members to have the courage to stand up for sugar reform when the Farm Bill reaches the House floor.
"The sugar program unnecessarily costs consumers billions of hard-earned dollars and the U.S. economy thousands of jobs each year. Whether it is in the form of higher grocery bills or the closing or relocation of businesses overseas due to high sugar prices, American consumers, businesses and workers feel the economic impact of the flawed U.S. sugar program. The time for reform is now."
Under the current program, at least 85% of sugar sold in the U.S. must be produced here, the Times said. The program guarantees minimum sugar prices for domestic producers through federal loans that allow producers to borrow against their supplies and repay those loans in sugar, instead of cash, if prices drop too low.
The Coalition for Sugar Reform argued that the program costs consumers as much as $3.5 billion a year in higher food prices and that doing away with it could produce as many as 20,000 food manufacturing jobs. Club for Growth calls the program "an outrageous form of corporate welfare."
Sugar producers contend that the program protects a $20-billion industry that employs 142,000 workers nationwide. And they doubt that food makers would pass along any savings that might come from doing away with the program.
"At the end of the day ... if the sugar prices came down, it wouldn't change the price of a candy bar," said Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) whose state is home to sugar beet farms and processors.