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Ghost of Halloween Past

spooky sugar

The debate over the future of no-cost sugar policy has been going on longer than most Hill staffers have been alive. And neither the tactics nor the talking points used by the anti-farmer crowd has changed very much over that time.

For decades, each Halloween has included the same painfully punny attacks against U.S. sugar farmers. References to the "spooky" effects of no-cost sugar policy and consumers getting "scared" by sugar prices apparently never go out of style.

And if past is prologue, this year's unoriginal criticisms will be based on the same old data that is as inaccurate today as it was when first created years and years ago.

For example, the accusation that U.S. sugar policy costs grocery shoppers $3.5 billion a year, appeared just last week in an op-ed from supporters of Big Candy. That grossly inflated figure has been around since 2011 and comes from a "study" sponsored by the confectionery lobby.

After its release six years ago, the candy lobby's study was ripped to shreds by the dean of the University of Maryland's business school, who urged Congress to dismiss it for several reasons, including:

  • Cherry-picked data from an anomalous period when U.S. sugar prices were higher than normal and subsidized foreign prices were lower than normal.
  • The baseless assumption that food manufacturers would pass every penny of savings from lower sugar prices to consumers.

The period since 2011 has proven the professor right. Over that time, U.S. sugar prices have nearly been cut in half. Yet, none of those savings have been shared with grocery shoppers.

In fact, the price of candy, cakes, cookies and other sweets has gone up since 2011 as manufacturers pocketed sugar savings to further pad profits.Grocers also profited, as they paid sugar producers less for the bags of sugar on store shelves but charged their customers more.

Another favorite of the candy industry this time of year is the accusation that sugar policy has cost 3 candy jobs for every 1 sugar job it protected. That factoid is even older, coming from a flawed 1994 study that was cited in a 2006 report. And the same University of Maryland professor took issue with the 2006 paper.

The 3-to-1 figure, he explains, fails to account for more than 140,000 U.S. sugar jobs and inflates estimated job loss in the candy sector by relying on candy company press releases that are now nearly 20 years old instead of actual data.

And things have changed a lot since this thoroughly debunked ratio has surfaced. Instead of job loss, candy company press releases are now about job growth and expansion in the United States.

In fact, since the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law, candy companies have boasted to their shareholders that they've invested more than $3.3 billion in U.S. facilities and added well over 4,000 jobs. If you're interested in some of this good news, check it out here.

Long story short, this Halloween will be full of the same old stale rhetoric from well-heeled multinational companies that want to harm family farms and outsource America's sugar production to subsidized foreign countries.

It's just as incorrect now as it was in Halloweens past. Don't be "tricked."

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