Sen. Mark Kirk thinks sugar is too expensive.
And he’s right.
Kirk and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire just published an editorial in Politico on their bill, the Stop Unfair Giveaways and Restrictions (SUGAR) Act, which would end price supports that make American sugar twice as expensive as sugar from other countries.
High sugar prices affect jobs. The sugar program benefits about 4,700 growers of sugar cane and sugar beets nationwide. But it hurts more than 600,000 people working in sugar-using industries nationwide — from candy makers to bakers.
High sugar prices were responsible for the loss of 112,000 jobs in those industries between 1997 and 2009, according to industry analysts. For every sugar-growing job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, according to a 2006 Commerce Department study, approximately three jobs in sugar-using industries are lost.
This policy puts U.S. businesses at a terrible disadvantage. Imported products that use sugar are relatively free of punitive tariffs. That means foreign competitors in the confectionery industry are using cheaper sugar so they can undersell American companies.
Why does Kirk care so much about price supports for the sugar industry? Illinois is not a sugar-producing state. Sugar beets grow in Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota and Michigan. Sugar cane grows in Florida and Louisiana. It’s a sugar consuming state. We make Milky Ways, Snickers bars and Tootsie Rolls here. But, as Kirk, points out, confectioners have been fleeing Chicago to get away from high sugar prices. Brach’s moved to Mexico, leaving an empty factory on the West Side. Even Wrigley, one of Chicago’s signature brands, now makes gum in China and Mexico.
You could argue, though, that sugar price supports have been good for Illinois. Excessive sugar prices led to the development of high fructose corn syrup, an artificial sweetener that has replaced sugar in most soft drinks. One of its biggest manufacturers is Archer Daniels Midland, the Decatur food processor that has spent millions of dollars lobbying for corn subsidies. Recently, Pepsi began selling a retro sugar-sweetened drink in a retro-styled can.
Researchers at Princeton University have found that high fructose corn syrup is more fattening than sugar, and pointed out that the U.S. obesity rate has doubled since its
introduction. If Kirk succeeds in lowering the price of sugar, would soft-drink companies switch back, thus eliminating a huge market for Illinois corn?
Maybe high sugar prices have hurt Illinois’s candy industry, but they’ve created an even bigger industry.
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