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Press jumps on waning political influence of U.S. sugar industry.

The influence of the sugar lobby in Washington, D.C. is on the wane, according to the New York Times. Big sugar is especially losing its sway with Republicans as its opposition to President Bush's top trade priority, CAFTA, has forced the party to abandon the industry.

Ambassador Allen Johnson, America's chief international agricultural negotiator, said that the changes to the sector from CAFTA would be small and there was nothing in the agreement that was a threat to the sugar industry. According to the Times, Johnson suggested that the sugar lobby was short-sighted, risking its relationship with the Bush administration ahead of legislation that would determine the billions of dollars in federal money to be divided among farmers into the next decade for crop subsidies, conservation and other agricultural programs.

And, in one of the rare instances of a food lobby turning against one of its own, big agribusiness is siding with the Bush administration against sugar. "Sugar is fighting to maintain its program to the detriment of the rest of agriculture," said Bob Stallman, the president of the American Farm Bureau federation.

GAO found that by relying on an outdated quota system, sugar costs for consumers are increased by about $1.9 billion a year. This is disproportionate when compared to the estimated $19 billion in subsidies that go to producers of corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans.

Phillip W. Hayes, spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, rejects the charge that his industry opposes free trade. Rather than the slow dismantling of the American program through bilateral negotiations, domestic sugar producers say they want all countries to end their sugar subsidies at once in a global trade agreement. "If everyone laid down their subsidies," Hayes said, "then we would give up our sugar program."

The Times suggests that part of the sugar lobby's problems also may stem from its decreasing political contributions. The sugar lobby gave $3.2 million during the 2004 elections, down from $3.4 million in 2000. The latest contributions were 6 percent of the $54.5 million given by agribusiness as a whole, though sugar's giving was the largest for a single commodity.

The Times also found that the sugar lobby's battle with health organizations over obesity issues has soured its image on the public. To fight this on Capitol Hill the sugar industry recruited the Grocery Manufacturers of America to assist. The move backfired in 2004 when the GMA, fearing consumer backlash over its support of sugar, reversed its stance.

However, Andrew Briscoe, president of the Sugar Association, told the Times that studies found sugar was not a health hazard. He also noted that even as obesity in the United States has increased, per capita consumption of sugar has fallen. Much of the decline was because sugar has been replaced in many foods by lower-cost corn syrup.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 6, 2005
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