Friday, January 03, 2014

Big Sugar poisons people, poisons the Everglades, and poisons Democracy … by gimleteye

The most perverse subsidy in the United States belongs to Big Sugar, whose influence courses through Miami and Florida thanks to hundreds of millions that falls to political advantage from the stalks of sugar cane grown in the historic Everglades.

Big Sugar disputes this. Their claim, "It's not a 'subsidy'", has put a massive toll on the state for decades. Naturally the industry fails to acknowledge the price supports and other favorable treatment in the sugar program guarantee profit the instant a starter plant is inserted in once-rich Everglades peat. The soils in the Everglades Agricultural Area are so exhausted they now require enormous inputs of pollution-generating additives.

Between guarantees, loans, insurance and import quotas, raising sugar in Florida is close to a risk free business that shifts both costs and risks to taxpayers. Big Sugar's primary concerns are acts of God. Sugar is also a de facto monopoly, with the two main producers US Sugar and the Fanjul companies working closely to maintain insider prerogatives while pushing small growers to howl that theirs is really a vital industry of small, responsible farmers.

It's smart business to use good ole boys for spokesmen or soccer moms or grandmothers, and not round Miami lawyers in expensive suits, Hermes ties and Bruno Maglis.

Give the billionaire sugar barons -- the Miami and Palm Beach Fanjuls come to mind -- full credit: they hire the best help and water boys to ensure their prerogatives are not only secure in Tallahasee (where they regularly flood Capitol hallways with more lobbyists than senators) but that constant pressure is put on county commissions and local and state zoning and environmental regulators to extend their profits in whatever business directions they can imagine: inland ports, wind farms, airports, suburban sprawl. They scatter their money judiciously like sprinkles on cupcakes.

Anything they want, just so long as their land does not end up in public ownership -- which is necessary of course to restore the Everglades.

Today news comes from the US Department of Agriculture how the perversity extends further. One of the ways that the federal government "guarantees" Big Sugar profits is by taking up any surplus production and stockpiling whatever is not soaked up by the marketplace. It is a pretty good deal, right?

Let's say you are a widget maker. Your widgets cost a lot if you can only make them on one shift, because you have to buy machinery and equipment and other capital costs. That makes your widget price relatively high.

If you can add two additional shifts, to run 24/7, then you can spread out the costs through higher production. Of course you have to have customers to make this work. If you don't have enough customers, you end up eating inventory.

Big Sugar doesn't have to have customers. It has the US government. Or federal taxpayer. That's because whatever Big Sugar makes, is bought by you. Here is a current example how that happens on a yearly basis, every year, year in and year out:
Monday, December 2nd, 2013

U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) announced the results of CCC's offer made on Nov. 14, 2013, to sell its sugar inventory for bioenergy production under the Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). CCC also announced a new invitation to sell the remainder of its recently acquired sugar inventory for both bioenergy production under the Feedstock Flexibility Program and other non-food uses. CCC successfully sold 216,750 short tons to bioenergy producers for $11.3 million under the Nov. 14 offer, but still holds 79,750 tons in inventory. The invitation reduces the minimum quantity for bids to 5,000 tons and offers sugar for both bioenergy and other non-food uses. This invitation, and all of the Farm Service Agency's actions to address the 2012 sugar crop-year surplus, can be found on the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Commodity Operations website at
CCC acquired 296,500 short tons of sugar on Oct. 1, 2013, in lieu of cash repayments on its remaining 2012 crop year sugar loans. These sugar loan forfeitures were the result of record domestic sugar production, record Mexican sugar imports, and world prices falling below U.S. price support levels for the first time in several years. CCC is prohibited by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 farm bill) from selling its sugar inventory for domestic food use unless there is an emergency sugar shortage.

For information about FSA programs, visit your county USDA Service Center or go to

So look at this subsidy another way: the money you earn and spend in taxes to the federal government is going to support an industry that could not be economic but for its control of federal elected officials who are "doing good" by supporting a product that is at the root of hundreds of billions of health care costs (sugar in the food supply, a leading cause of health care costs and emergencies in the United States), that destroys the environment (sugar farming is a primary cause of the rampant pollution of the Everglades and dominates water management to the extent that it deprives Florida's coastal estuaries of sufficient water quantity and quality to survive, also impacting real property values) and poisons Democracy (sugar money funds through indirect and dark money channels political causes hostile to the public interest).

So here is one New Year's resolution for 2014: write to your elected officials or call them and demand that they take a "No Sugar Money Pledge". It is the only way to get the point across that the special treatment for Big Sugar must stop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only thing that kills a farm subsidy is the collapse of crop market.

Growing up 30 years ago in eastern North Carolina 90% of the land was in tobacco production complete with price supports, now it's virtually nonexistent. Replaced by hogs, turkey, cotton and landscape nurseries. Why? people quit smoking, no money left to buy elections and it all went away.

So maybe no-big-gulps Bloomberg was on the right track?

But if you thought nicotine was addictive, wait until you try to wean the public off sugar.