With the Senate set to debate its version of the farm bill this fall, sugar policy will be a controversial part of the agenda. As NPR’s Peter Overby reports on All Things Considered, sugar growers and their allies in Congress want the government to protect the industry from Mexican imports by diverting surplus sugar into ethanol production. CIR contributed research and reporting for Overby’s piece.
The battle over sugar is fought between sugar producers – who want a government-guaranteed, inflated price for sugar – and manufacturers who want low prices for the sugar they use to make food products. The weapons of choice in this battle include, of course, lobbyists and campaign contributions.
I interviewed lobbyists and sugar farmers at the American Sugar Alliance’s annual schmooze-n-golf symposium at a Napa Valley resort last month. The lunchtime speaker, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), who is featured in the NPR piece, gave a rousing pitch to the sugar crowd to give more money and continue knocking on Capitol Hill doors. Two other friendly members of Congress also attended the conference, as well as former Rep. Larry Combest (R-Texas) who crafted the 2002 farm bill as chair of the House Committee on Agriculture. He’s now a lobbyist for the sugar industry.
The sugar fest launched with a morning pep talk from Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), whose call from his sugar-growing state was piped through speakers over breakfast. As Coleman promised attendees he would fight for the industry’s interests in the Senate farm bill debate, conference-goers had their pick of a wide variety of sugar packets for their morning coffee, including saccharine samples from Hawaii, Florida and Minnesota. No Sweet’N Low in sight.