In candy-coated Washington-speak, the terms “modernize” and “reform” are synonymous with “weaken” and “eliminate.”
So excuse America’s sugar farmers for being offended and outraged when the Coalition for Sugar Reform recently asked them to support the Sugar Policy Modernization Act.
That proposal, which is called the “Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill” in farming circles, would force the USDA to oversupply the U.S. market with subsidized imports while limiting sugar producers’ access to the loans they repay with interest.
“It’s insulting that big candy companies would try to trick sugar farmers into supporting their own demise with a misleading campaign full of deceptions,” said Curt Rutherford, a sugarbeet farmer from Brawley, California, who was in D.C. this week to meet with lawmakers. “Do they think we’re stupid?”
The motives behind the plan are clear. Multinational food manufacturers want artificially cheap sugar prices to further boost their profits, and they’ve waged an unrelenting war on America’s farmers for decades to get it.
Of course, using misleading bill titles isn’t the only way agriculture’s opponents are twisting the facts this time around. Days ago, the same anti-farmer crowd urged lawmakers to unilaterally disarm America’s no-cost sugar policy, citing Europe as a model for success.
In 2006, the European Union “implemented a wide-ranging quota relaxation and target price reduction scheme,” they wrote. “Foreign sellers were finally let in, and prices were allowed to reflect global marketplace conditions.”
Too bad that’s not entirely accurate.
The policy change in Europe ended country-by-country production quotas and stopped the region’s long-time subsidized export scheme. But, EU tariffs on sugar imports from the world’s major producers remain prohibitive.
Conveniently, the critics also failed to point out the billions in taxpayer-funded payments Europe gave its industry and developing-country suppliers as part of the deal. And they forgot to mention the $665 million in annual subsidy checks European sugar farmers now receive.
We asked Patrick Chatenay, an EU sugar expert from the UK-based company ProSunergy, what he thought of the characterization.
“Are these critics advocating a reform which increases calls on public funds?” he questioned.
“Of course, industrial sugar users are delighted by the EU situation: the cost of support has been transferred from sugar buyers to the taxpayer,” Chatenay explained. “There is no drop in retail prices; consumers just get to pay higher taxes.”
Not exactly most people’s definition of a “modern reform.”