National Consumers League

Spooky subsidies


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By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Halloween and all of the sweet treats American families buy at this time of year are a reminder of one of many critical issues Congress must address: U.S. sugar program reform. Costing American consumers an extra $3.5 billion a year in higher grocery bills, the sugar program, which began during the Great Depression, is in dire need of reform. The National Consumers League (NCL ) has a history of opposing agricultural subsidies. We have opposed both the sugar program, which benefits a small number of growers, and dairy subsidies. The main reason we oppose these programs is that they result in higher prices for consumers. The U.S. sugar program costs the average family of four $40 per year. This may seem like an insignificant amount, but when multiplied by 300 million Americans, the total cost to U.S. consumers is $3.5 billion every year. By artificially raising the U.S. price of sugar, the program acts as a hidden tax on consumers, impacting all products that use sugar. These items include the obvious things like candy, cookies and other treats, but also less obvious products such as bread, tomato sauce, peanut butter and frozen veggies.  Furthermore, this “hidden tax” is also regressive, because low-income consumers spend a higher percentage of their income on food. NCL is a proud member of the Coalition for Sugar Reform. The Coalition is made up of a diverse group of companies and organizations, which are united in opposing the costly U.S. sugar program and are urging policymakers to reform it. The Coalition for Sugar Reform has been working hard to reform the program through the farm bill, an important piece of legislation that is generally updated every five years.  This year, the bill was not rewritten due to partisan squabbling on the Hill.  There are indications that it will be addressed either in the “lame-duck” session or early on in the new Congress.  Either way, NCL hopes that Congress will take a hard look at the sugar program and enact much-needed reform.