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Published August 26, 2013, 10:15 AM

Defending sugar

Larry Graham told the nation’s sugar growers recently that the confectioners and other sweetener users will continue to fight the sugar program, but that the growers and the users should set aside their differences to defend the use of sugar in the American diet.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

NAPA, Calif. — National Confectioners Association President and CEO Larry Graham told the nation’s sugar growers recently that the confectioners and other sweetener users will continue to fight the sugar program, but that the growers and the users should set aside their differences to defend the use of sugar in the American diet.

Graham, who is active in the Sweetener Users Association and heads the larger Coalition for Sugar Reform, acknowledged that the sugar growers had won this year’s farm battle to keep the sugar program, but said the users would continue to fight the program even if Congress makes the sugar program in the next farm bill permanent.

“We are not against the sugar growers or refiners,” Graham said. “We are against the sugar program. We think long-term, this program is vulnerable. It can’t survive forever.”

“I want the price to be where the market says it should be,” Graham said, like “we are buying cocoa, nuts and flour and corn syrup. I don’t know if there is any magic price.

Our companies have thought for a long time that prices were above world prices and companies outside the United States had an advantage.”

The National Confectioners Association, he noted, includes many small family-owned companies, as well as the big candy manufacturers. The confectionary industry is the No. 2 purchaser of sugar after the bakery industry.

The biggest impact of high sugar prices and the sugar program, he says, falls on “sugar candy” companies that make candy that does not contain chocolate. Because there are no tariffs on sugar candy coming from Canada and Mexico, shipments of candy from those countries are increasing.

The American Sugar Alliance, which represents the growers, said candy companies have moved to Mexico for cheaper labor, but Graham said they moved to Mexico for cheaper sugar.

ASA notes that many U.S. candy companies have had high profits in recent years.

Graham urged the growers to join the users in fighting campaigns against sugar such as those who maintain that sugar is an addictive.

“We are all wasting too much time on this farm bill,” Graham said. “Our money in the next two years will be put into making this industry grow.”

Confectioners’ surveys, Graham says, show that consumers do not understand a teaspoon of sugar has 15 calories. “I don’t see there is an aggressive enough effort to deal with the demonization of sugar.”

In a news release after Graham’s speech, ASA ignored his comments on cooperation and urged the sweetener users to join the growers in backing a “zero-for-zero” sugar trade policy bill introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.

The Yoho bill says U.S. trade negotiators should agree to change the U.S. sugar program only if other countries institute the same level of changes.

“We hope you will join the free-market fight by backing the Yoho bill,” Jack Roney, the ASA chief economist, said in the release. “We are among the most efficient sugar producers in the world; now let us prove it by getting the governments of Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and other exporters out of the way.”

In reaction, NCA said in a release, “The U.S. sugar producing industry’s proposal of a ‘zero-for-zero’ policy to target other countries’ sugar subsidies before dealing with our own market-distorting subsidies here at home first is deeply misguided and also disingenuous...

“In agreeing to speak at the ASA conference, we hoped to open an honest dialogue with sugar producers and are disappointed in the deliberately misleading manner in which ASA used Mr. Graham’s comments,” the NCA said.

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