Candy Makers Bitter About Sugar Policy

(The Record/MCT) -

Candy makers think the American sugar industry has too sweet a deal, and they’re fighting to change U.S. farm policies that they say have pushed up the price of sugar.

“This is basically a welfare program for a small number of folks who grow sugar,” said Michael Rosenberg, chief executive officer of Promotion in Motion, an Allendale, N.J. company that makes candy, fruit snacks and chocolate-covered raisins and nuts. “It’s not just costing the American consumer a lot of money at the grocery store, but it also makes it difficult for American companies to compete globally.”

Rosenberg is part of the Coalition for Sugar Reform, an alliance of confectioners, bakeries, food companies, and consumer and business groups that has fought against federal sugar policies. Those policies include import quotas, minimum prices and limits on how much sugar can be produced in the United States. The coalition says these policies add $3.5 billion annually to Americans’ food bills.

The candy makers’ efforts faced a setback last week when the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the farm bill that would have changed the sugar policy. (It then voted down the entire $1 trillion farm bill, which governs dozens of nutrition and agricultural programs, including food stamps). It was not clear whether legislation on sugar would be reintroduced.

The House’s vote on the sugar amendment was applauded by the American Sugar Alliance. The group, which represents U.S. sugar producers, says they need protection from heavily subsidized foreign sugar companies, especially in Brazil and Mexico, that can dump cheap sugar on the U.S. market.

“We have a U.S. sugar policy for one reason only: foreign subsidies,” said Phillip Hays, an alliance spokesman.

Hays said the sugar industry – which includes growers of sugar cane, mostly in Florida and Louisiana; and sugar beets, in Minnesota, North Dakota and other northern states – would accept an end to government sugar policies if other nations stopped helping their own sugar producers.

Rosenberg employs 500 people at his factory in Franklin Township, N.J., which makes Welch’s fruit snacks, Sun-Maid chocolate-covered raisins, Sour Jacks candy, Nuclear SQworms and other products. Promotion in Motion also employs about 75 people in sales, marketing, finance and research in Allendale.

Rosenberg says he’d have liked to put more people to work manufacturing products in the United States, but instead he opened a factory in Spain, where sugar is less expensive and easier to obtain.

He said he was encouraged by the narrow margin of defeat in the House (221-206) for changing sugar policy. “Never before have we been this close,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get another shot at this.”