Most Americans don’t think about the farmers who grow our food or the government farm policies that support them – that is until they can’t find an item at the grocery store. Sugar is one of the crops that is grown in the United States, and thanks to these federal policies, is always in stock.
Last month, Hershey made news when it quickly walked back shocking comments made by its CEO Michele Buck during an earnings call. Ms. Buck had announced that there would be a shortage of Halloween candy from the company because of supply chain issues, making this Halloween all tricks and no treats.
The company quickly clarified, saying that the real problem is that their candy is too popular. “We actually anticipate high single-digit growth for our Halloween and holiday seasons,” a Hershey spokeswoman said. All of this sweet candy is helping drive an increase in profits for Hershey.
Sugar is, of course, an essential ingredient in most sweet treats. The vast majority of the sugar we eat is either grown on sugarcane or sugarbeet farms in the United States or refined from raw sugar by American cane sugar refiners.
But corporate candy companies don’t want to “Buy American” when it comes to sugar. Candy companies like Hershey have spent years lobbying Congress to weaken U.S. sugar policy and allow foreign sugar producers to flood U.S. markets with subsidized sugar.
Many conservative groups over the years have made ‘ending sugar subsidies’ an almost writ of faith. The guaranteed net effect of weakening U.S. sugar policy would be to drive U.S. sugarcane and sugarbeet farmers out of business, making the Hershey’s of the world more and more reliant on the vagaries of unreliable foreign countries for our sugar.
If Hershey is feigning concern about the supply of sugar now, imagine what will happen when they are completely reliant on cheap foreign sugar? Other countries don’t have our best interests in mind and are likely to raise prices or restrict supply once their American competitors have been destroyed. Sound familiar – think about it as you fill your gas tank. It would be much harder to produce candy if Hershey was waiting on a shipment of sugar from Brazil (remember the 70-ship traffic jam in Brazil at the start of the pandemic as Brazil worked to export sugar?).
This is exactly what happened in Europe when the E.U. in 2006 chose to drop sugar support. A 2019 report on the effects of policies that encourage foreign sugar dumping in Europe by Patrick Chatenay states, “The EU’s liberalization of its sugar industry is a lesson in unintended policy consequences: a fundamentally competitive industry is being endangered by domestic and international market distortions.”
Here at home, the lesson that policymakers should take in 2023 when considering a new Farm Bill is to vote for policies that support farmers here at home, not foreign government-subsidized producers abroad.
This Halloween, Hershey might try to scare consumers into thinking U.S. sugar policy is to blame for a disappointing Halloween haul. But the reality is that America’s sugar farmers are working hard to keep us supplied with sugar, producing about nine million tons of sugar each year.
America currently enjoys a stable, dependable, and affordable supply of sugar due to American farmers, workers, and U.S. sugar policy. Food manufacturers and American families should be thankful, and supportive of the federal policies that make that possible.
• The author is president of Americans for Limited Government