U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Pat Toomey, R-Penn. and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. on Thursday introduced the Shaheen-Kirk Sugar Reform Act, legislation to reform domestic supply restrictions, lower price support levels and "ensure adequate sugar supplies at reasonable prices."
The proposal would roll back provisions added in 2008 that bill supporters say "unfairly benefit wealthy sugar farmers at the expense of consumers."
"American families are footing the bill for an outdated program that offers a sweet deal to a small group of sugar growers and processors. No program should be immune to updates or improvements," Shaheen said.
The bill is also supported by Congressmen Joe Pitts, R-Penn., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. and Danny Davis, D-Ill.
Shaheen says the federal sugar program, which currently employs a limit on sugar imports and encourages higher prices for domestic sugar, has cost consumers and businesses an estimated $14 billion over the last 4 years, and 112,000 jobs have been lost in sugar-using industries between 1997-2009.
However, an opponent of the reform plan, the American Sugar Alliance, has long held the stance that sugar reform benefits consumers, operating at no cost to taxpayers.
ASA says the program helps counter subsidies by foreign competitors like Brazil, and ensures consistent domestic supplies at consistent prices.
Jobs also key sticking point
Another reform opponent, the American Sugarbeet Growers, says that demand for domestic sugar without the policy in place would eliminate rural farming jobs. However, reform proponents use a similar argument, noting that American manufacturing jobs are lost because more candy is being made overseas to avoid American sugar prices.
"Left unchanged, the current sugar program will continue to hurt American workers by driving good American manufacturing jobs to Canada, Mexico, and other foreign countries. Left unchanged, the current sugar program will continue to hurt American consumers by unnecessarily inflating the price of every product made with sugar. It is time to change this anachronistic program," Rep. Davis said.
Sugar reform has seen its fair share of Congressional action – Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., offered a similar measure last year as an amendment to the House Farm Bill, though it was voted down 10-36, and a Senate Farm Bill amendment in 2012 was also voted down 50-46. Sen. Shaheen also introduced a sugar reform bill in January, 2011.