Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Big Sugar poisons people, poisons Democracy, and poisons the Everglades: the "Take No Money From Sugar" pledge … by gimleteye

A recent report by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) highlights that the U.S. spends two and a half times per capita than any other OECD country. "Higher health spending per capita tends to be associated with lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, but this is not the case for the United States." ("OECD: Switzerland tops 34 nations for life expectancy at 82.8", UPI, Jan. 7, 2014) Since the United States is an "exceptional" democracy, is there any conclusion except that a short life expectancy is the fruit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

There is another: American politics are organized to protect corporate interests that make voters and taxpayers sick. How does this happen? Sick Americans get well by paying exorbitantly to corporations but only well enough to fall ill again and thereby profit.

How does this happen? Take a look at a key player in the paradox of the world's wealthiest nation tossing away the gift of life: the sugar industry. In Florida it is called, Big Sugar. In other states it is beet production, maple syrup and most ubiquitous of all: fructose extracted from corn and carbohydrates from wheat.

Sugar is the big stake in the heart of American health. "Annual high fructose corn sweetener, one type of sugar in the food supply, increased to 28.7 pounds per capita (in 2013), up from .3 pounds per capital in 1970." (American Heart Association, "With a Heavy Heart: Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease").

"30%-40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar." (Credit Suisse Report: "Sugar: Consumption At A Crossroads", Sept. 2013) In Forbes Magazine, contributor Dan Monroe wrote, "Basically, the U.S. healthcare system spends about $1 trillion per year (and possibly more) fighting the effects of excess sugar consumption."

The pathways to obesity and heart disease are like cattle chutes through which voters are channeled in order to profit Big Agriculture and corporations that focus on delivering carbohydrates and sugar.

According to a recent United Health Foundation study, "Nine of the 10 least healthy states in the nation had among the 10 worst obesity rates in the country." Since a root cause of obesity is excess consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, one would think the most exceptional nation in the world ought to be able to devise a better way to protect its citizens' well being.

In the United States, the right wing calls the phenomenon, freedom of the market place. We are free to choose our destinies beyond the reach of government even if that means skyrocketing obesity or dying earlier than we should or inflict costs on the economy of more than twice the average of other developed nations. The combination of factors that organize American politics around what is harming voters -- free from the iron lung of exorbitantly expensive health care -- give Americans a statistical probability of dying earlier than a citizen from Slovenia or Chile.

Name one Republican or Democratic member of Congress or local town selectman or county commissioner who wants to die before their time. Name one.

The recent study by United Health Foundation helps illuminate the paradoxes. (The United Health foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. UnitedHealth calls itself "the most diversified health care company in the United States.")

"America’s Health Rankings" rates the most healthy and least health states by evaluating factors such as healthy behaviors, quality of health care, health policy, the presence of diseases and deaths from illnesses.  So what are the most healthy and least healthy states? Which political party have voters chosen to represent their interests in these states?

The ratio of Democrats and Republican governors from the most and least healthy states is inverse. For example, 70 percent of governors in the most healthy states are Democrat. Only 30 percent of governors are Republican. In the most healthy states, Democrats are 80 percent of the aggregate number of senators, and in the least healthy states, Democrats are only 35 percent of that number.

The website 247 Wall Street viewed the differences through an economic lens:
Money (also) clearly plays a role in determining health. The healthiest states are often among the nation’s wealthiest, and each had a median household income well-above the national median. At the other end, nearly all of the nation’s least healthy states had among the lowest incomes. The three least healthy states — Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana — were also the nation’s three poorest by median income. Residents’ ability to pay for health care, as well as the ability to afford a good education, which can affect good health decisions, are possible reasons for this relationship. 
(Behavior plays a major role in determining whether people stay healthy. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St.,) Dr. Reed Tuckson, external clinical advisor to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings, explained that the relationship between wealth and health could also be the result of lack of optimism poorer people may have. “When you do not have great hope for the future, when you’re living a life that is not as optimistic, people are generally not as inclined to take charge of their overall health. ‘What’s the point,’ people will say. ‘If my life is miserable anyway, why would I do something to make myself live longer?’
It is tempting to leave the analysis to: Americans who vote against their own interests are Republican and susceptible to fears that with Democrats in office, they might be even more poor and hopeless (a fear amply stoked by top Republican political strategists). But that is not the case.

In 2013, the US Senate took up an amendment to the Farm Bill to reduce sugar subsidies. By reducing its guarantees, Congress would have stripped the financial certainty through which the sugar industry hires lobbyists and buys the influence of politicians without fear of consequence. On May 22nd, the Senate voted against the amendment by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, from one of the most healthy states (NH), 54-44. 

In contrast to the party affiliation of members of Congress and the governors of the most and least healthy states -- where the least healthy states are strongly weighted to the far right Republican wing -- opposition to the sugar subsidy was mostly a Republican venture, enlisting wealthy foundations and conservative think tanks like the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans for Tax Reform. Writing for the Club For Growth, Andrew Roth said: "The federal sugar program is a prime example of the federal government wrongly picking winners and losers in the private sector. It dislocates jobs, increases prices for consumers and businesses, and includes a protectionist quota that stifles freer trade."

George Will, in the Washington Post, echoed: "Sugar protectionism is government planning. It is industrial policy — government picking winners and losers — applied to agriculture. It is politics supplanting the market in allocating wealth and opportunity. And it is perfectly all right with 20 of the 45 Republican senators." Will lambasted Florida Senator Marco Rubio for ducking (voting against the reform) while Texas senator Ted Cruz, who also has sugar production in his state, stuck with his principles.

So how did the US Senators from the most healthy and least healthy states, vote? Does the outcome match the political preferences of the most and least healthy states? Not exactly.

The healthy state senators -- mostly Democrats -- voted exactly as the final outcome of the vote: opposing sugar reform by 55 percent to 40 percent (NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg did not vote.) On the other hand, US senators from the least healthy states supported sugar reform, by 60 percent to 40 percent.

US senators with sugar constituencies from the healthy states -- Minnesota (D), Vermont (D, I), Colorado (D), North Dakota (D, R) and Hawaii (D) -- all voted against reform. In other words, of senators from healthy states who opposed sugar reform, 85 percent were Democrats. According to the website, Opensecrets.org, the second highest recipient of campaign cash from sugar interests was progressive stalwart, Al Franken (D-Minnesota). Franken in 2013 received $27,999.

Of the least healthy states with sugar production -- Louisiana and Mississippi -- four senators -- all Republican -- voted against reform. But how to account for the surprising rejection by a 60-40 margin of the sugar welfare by all senators of the least healthy states? Senators from Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia (75 percent Republican) voted their principles.

When sugar money is at stake, Democrats in Congress abandon their principles with the same vigor as Republicans. "Sugar is the only industry in the entire agribusiness sector that has consistently supported Democrats during the past two decades." (Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets: Background, Opensecrets)

The real question is not following the money. That is simple to do. The real question is why do voters allow American politicians to decouple public health from policies that enrich corporations peddling addictions to sugar. Living free from disease is not a partisan issue, nor should it be a partisan issue reforming the farm bill to protect the public health.

The costs are in public health, not whether a candy bar costs forty five or fifty cents. For manufacturers and consumers of foods containing sugar, the welfare program for the industry is worth about $1 billion in excess profits. But the true cost to consumers isn't in the price of candy, soda, or the innumerable products that contain sugar in portions by the gram. The cost is health. The real metric is how long American voters live.

How much does it cost sugar industries to persuade Congress to support its welfare program that inflicts a considerable portion of the $1 trillion health care costs cited above? Not much at all.

Opensecrets claims direct contributions to federal candidates for political office in 2012 were only $5.3 million, "evenly split between Democrats and Republicans." In 2012, the sugar industry spent $7.9 million on lobbyists. In fact, the real value of sugar money in American politics disappears through the figments of campaign finance law and filaments of law enforcement. "In 2009, (sugar) crop producers spent more than $20.5 million on federal lobbying." ("How Big Sugar Gets Its Way", The Florida Independent, Sept. 11, 2011) The industries cumulatively spend billions through dark money channels into political campaigns and "independent" expenditure committees supporting their candidates at all levels of government: from the smallest fry in Florida counties, to the state capitols wherever sugar can be grown. ("Koch-backed political coalition, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012", Washington Post, 1/7/2014)

So weight the relative costs: a trillion dollars of health care expense to the US economy through excess consumption of sugar, a billion dollars of profit through sugar welfare cemented in the farm bill, and the wholesale purchase of Congress and the White House, against all principles and logic, by the sugar industry for only $100 million a year, at most. Apply these numbers and their relative value to the good of the nation, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are not what we seem.

Life in America is cheap. In the case of Big Sugar, it is good to be king. American voters are ill and suffering under the illusion that among the world's developed nations, the United States is exceptional. Closer to reality: the United States is that special snow flake fallen on a pile of white sugar and melted by campaign finance laws organized to make corporations more powerful than people.

Americans should weigh these costs: of sugar, life expectancy, health care concerns, and take the time to write and call representatives in Congress and the President. Democrats and Republicans should embrace the pledge, "Take No Money From Sugar", as though their lives depended on it. The message is: in fact, they do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Big sugar may succumb to big weed. . .