Our Corrupt System: The Politics of Sugar

Today, as it has for many many years, The New York Times today slams the sweet deal given to the American sugar industry:

[S]ugar supports cost American consumers — who pay double the average world price — more than $1.5 billion a year. The system also bars farmers in some of the poorest countries of the world from selling their sugar here.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is about to topple this cozy arrangement. Next year, Mexican sugar will be allowed to enter the United States free of any quotas or duties, threatening a flood of imports. Rather than taking the opportunity to untangle the sugar program in this year’s farm bill, Congress has decided to bolster the old system.

Big Sugar is not the only beneficiary of this corporate welfare. The farm bill is larded with subsidies and other rewards for agricultural producers. The eagerness of members of Congress to please their sugar daddies is not surprising. Campaign donations from the sugar industry have topped $3 million in each of the last four political cycles. American consumers and taxpayers, as well as poor farmers overseas, shouldn’t have to pay the price.

This is of course all true, but the sugar industry is not the only egregious manipulator of our political system. But I want to concentrate on a different point, of personal interest to me. It is the fact that this system does not protect industries and jobs – it protects fat wallets. The small Florida town I grew up in lost hundreds of jobs – the excuse?

Sugar mill closes; trade pacts blamed

PAHOKEE, Fla. (AP) – The old sugar mill rises like a rusty tin mirage from endless green fields of freshly cut cane and swaths of rich, black soil. A sweet, musty smell hangs heavy in the air as white steam pours from its smokestacks for the last time.

The Bryant Sugar House has ground more than 90 million tons of cane into about 20 billion pounds of raw sugar since it opened in 1962. On Wednesday, the plant wrapped up its 45th harvest season and prepared to close forever following the industry trend — falling prices and better technology that means fewer jobs as more mills turn to automation and computers.

Faced with growing pressure from foreign sugar, U.S. Sugar Corp., the nation's largest producer of cane sugar, is combining the mill's operations with a high-tech plant 30 miles away. About 200 people will lose their jobs.

'We've had more and more trade agreements that continue to give away more access to our marketplace, creating a very, very competitive environment,' said Robert Coker, the company's vice president.

He said the company was forced to modernize one plant and consolidate operations, 'and unfortunately, when you modernize, it means eliminating jobs.'

Thirty-three mills across the country have closed in the last decade as producers try to remain competitive in a market becoming flush with excess foreign sugar, according to the American Sugar Alliance.

The $10-billion-a-year industry employs 146,000 people in the U.S. But trade agreements with other nations threaten even more American jobs as producers streamline their facilities to cut costs, the industry claims.

How convenient, trade pacts justified firing hundreds of people, a great many of them black and Latino, while the fat wallets still get to pad their pockets by virtue of a government giveaway.

Is it too difficult for Congress to insist that these fat cats use some of the money Congress gives them to keep Americans working?

Our government is broken. And small towns, populated with people who do not have millions for lobbyists, suffer:

Some of the 202 employees will go to work at U.S. Sugar's other plant. Some will retire. Many will simply move on. The company held a job fair.
'It's a sad day,' said 65-year-old mill manager Jacques Albert-Thenet. 'Some of these people have worked here an entire generation.'

Secretary Linda Stanley, 63, is one of only two employees who have worked at the plant since it opened in 1962. She has seen generations working side-by-side: 'Husbands, wives, sisters, children, brothers, nieces and nephews.'

Mill mechanic Jessie Brown Jr., 50, works alongside his two sons. He's been here 31 years and will soon head to the other mill for work.

'I'm going to have to do little adjusting. This is home,' Brown said. 'You gotta start all over again in a new place. Most of the people who are here now are your family.'

Not to worry. The fat cats will still get theirs -on the dole. The 1.5 billion dollar sugar fat cat dole.

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  1. also connected to Cuban exiles, and therefore to our idiotic embargo.

  2. It’s too bad all that extra cheap sugar can’t be turned into something useful like ethanol…oh, wait, then our sugar industry would get 1.5 billion in sugar subsidies PLUS a major tax break as producers of fuel… never mind.

  3. with Clinton, but are also donating to Dodd and Richardson, according to a Huff Post page.

  4. The Imperial Sugar refinery shut down there in 2003.  Even a town named for the sugar it was producing and distributing couldn’t keep the mill going.  I’m not sure of the politics involved, I just thought it was sad. 

    I didn’t realize how much more we pay for sugar compared to the rest of the world either.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though at this point…

    • snud on October 30, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Just who benefits from the impending sugar deal with Mexico and the answer came in a flash…

    Dentists! Those bastards! And lets not forget Tony The Tiger! They used to be called “Sugar Frosted Flakes” and now they’re just “Frosted Flakes”.

    But seriously folks… Great essay. I had no idea either we paid so much for the stuff.

    • xaxado on October 31, 2007 at 2:56 am

    This is the first year that Daylight Saving Time carries over into November — a weird but very special gift from G W Bush.  My theory is that he did it to guarantee slightly more daylight on Halloween, the biggest day of the year for the sugar lobby.  Parents are now paranoid (parentoid) and shut the whole things down soon after dark.  Fall behind in November — sweet deal.

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