By TOM LUTEY email@example.com
"Does it matter whether you’re a half-full or half-empty kind of guy when your “glass” of good fortune is a 64-ounce Big Gulp?
Sugar beet farmers have scored one major political victory after another this month, starting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s tentative approval of genetically modified sugar beets and ending with U.S. Senate’s narrow rejection of an amendment to the farm bill that would have opened the floodgates on foreign sugar. The amendment could have devastated the $60 million Montana sugar beet industry anchored by refineries in Billings and Sidney. There’s lingering anxiety with key actions still to come this summer, but the winning streak is undeniable.
Farmers growing the nation’s sugar crop are aided the federal “sugar program,” which, with some exceptions, limits the flow of foreign sugar into the country, provided U.S. farmers can raise enough sugar beets and sugarcane to meet demand.
The nation's candy lobby adamantly opposes the sugar program, arguing that allowing foreign sugar to flow freely into the Untied States would make for cheaper treats. The candy industry has repeatedly tried to end the sugar program to no avail, but this year with debt reduction rhetoric at a high pitch, the odds seemed better.
Groups like the Coalition for Sugar Reform attacked the sugar program as a job killer, sending U.S. candy jobs oversees, although sugar’s contribution to the cost of a $1 candy bar is about 3 cents. Lobbyists also succeeded in branding the sugar program as a subsidy, suggesting direct financial aid furnished by the government.
“I’ve watched a bunch of interviews with candy makers, and every one of them said ‘sugar subsidy,’ which is a nasty word right now,” said Donald Steinbeisser Jr., who farms near Sidney. “And with the jobs thing being as bad as it is right now, they're looking for anything they can blame for jobs leaving the United States.”
The middle of the month also saw the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deny a corn industry attempt to rebrand high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, as “corn sugar.” Beleaguered by foodies blaming corn sweetener for everything from obesity to diabetes, the Corn Refiners Association had petitioned for a renaming on food labels. Sugar beet farmers old enough to recall losing the sweetened beverage market to corn syrup 28 years ago lauded the FDA’s decision, which is likely to be final.
Still not a certainty is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final environmental impact statement on sugar beets genetically modified to survive being sprayed with the powerful weed killer glyphosate, marketed as Roundup. “Roundup Ready” sugar beets have been tangled in a four-year legal battle over whether they were environmentally safe. The key issues were whether the beets threatened to contaminate organic crops through cross pollination and whether repeated Roundup treatments, would eventually create super weeds out of unwanted plants that survived repeated exposure."