- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In 1969, the bubblegum pop group “TheArchies” released the catchy tune, “Sugar, Sugar,” which would quickly soar to No. 1 on the charts. It is a whimsical love song, and why not? Sugar is a feel-good food.

But sugar is also big business. Which means, in Washington, the politics of sugar are anything but happy and whimsical. In fact, the politics of sugar are as hardball as it gets. The domestic sugar industry - known as Big Sugar - gives freely to both Democrats and Republicans. In return, companies receive subsidies from the federal government in the form of protection from foreign sources of sugar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is required to ensure that domestic producers of sugar maintain a whopping 85 percent of the domestic market.

Growing up in a part of the country where sugar production is an important contributor to local communities, I understand the benefits of a robust U.S. sugar industry. The subsidies help to protect cane and beet farmers, as well as the sugar refining companies they sell to. It is arguable that these protections are a net positive to rural economies. I remain a proponent of federal support for this important industry.

What is far less acceptable are the recent efforts of Big Sugar to direct its aggression toward the makers of another form of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The Sugar Association has sued the Corn Refiners Association in an effort to block its campaign to educate consumers that HFCS is simply another form of sugar, just like beet and cane sugar.

I had corn producers in my congressional district, too, and was also a hardy supporter of these farmers. Whatever you may think of HFCS, there is no doubting it is a sugar. I know people are upset over the growing obesity problem in America - and I am, too. Surely, too much sugar consumption is one contributor to this national health problem. But calories are calories. So, to place all the blame on one form of sugar, HFCS, is unfair. The vilification on HFCS is way out of proportion, and the last thing it deserves is another unfounded attack from the beet and cane sugar industry. Especially since they are fellow domestic food producers that are supported by taxpayer dollars.

Not satisfied with its lawsuit against the corn refiners, Big Sugar also tried to exert its political influence on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reject the Corn Refiners Association request to change on food and beverage labels the name of HFCS to corn sugar. Just last week, the FDA rejected the corn refiners’ request. Rarely in all of my years in Washington have I seen this kind of opposition to the seemingly straightforward request to change the name from something so confusing that no one understands - high-fructose corn syrup - to something common-sense sounding that everyone will comprehend, corn sugar. Even the consumer groups who oppose the change admit the fact that sugar from corn is not nutritionally different from sugar processed from beets or cane.

I believe the Sugar Association is wrong to sue the makers of high-fructose corn syrup. Educating the public that HFCS is a sugar can only help to give consumers the information they need to better control their diet. Frankly, it is chilling that they are seeking to shut down a consumer education campaign.

Moreover, as a longtime supporter of both the sugar and corn industries, I hate to see Big Sugar turn its power and influence on a fellow agricultural sector. There is room in this country for both industries and beet and cane sugar companies should not attempt to achieve in the courts and through its lobbyists what it must earn fair and square in the marketplace. Washington has been very generous to the sugar industry and they shouldn’t push their luck. I say educate people that sugar is sugar and let them decide.

Ronnie Shows, a Democrat from Mississippi, served in Congress from 1999-2002.

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