The farm bill’s sugar program — sickeningly sweet

Today, as the Senate is scheduled to continue consideration of a new farm bill, The Washington Post features an editorial criticizing the bill and giving special mention to the expansion of the egregious sugar program, as well as corn-based ethanol production. Here’s the sugar section:

Under the pending farm bill, the U.S. sugar industry would get a 10-year, $1 billion program to prop up sugar prices by requiring the Agriculture Department to buy up excess production and resell it to ethanol producers at a deep discount. The idea is to protect American growers from Mexican competition after the North American Free Trade Agreement is fully phased in. The effect is to raise prices for every food that contains sugar. This illogical and wasteful plan passed the House thanks in part to $1.5 million in widely distributed campaign contributions from nine sugar farm or refinery groups, according to a Nov. 3 story in The Post by Mr. Morgan.

The 2007 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) would make the sugar program even worse than it is now. The system of price supports and import restrictions allows growers in the U.S. to charge consumers and other users artificially high prices for sugar and other sweeteners, currently more than two times the world market price.

In the bill being considered by the Senate, the price supports would be increased, restrictions on imports would be further tightened, and a new program would keep prices high by mandating that the government buy excess sugar for conversion to ethanol.

Meanwhile, of course, the U.S. restricts the import of ethanol through high tariffs.