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My Turn: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s sweet fight

When you are sharing your leftover white chocolate Easter eggs with your co-workers or just enjoying a candy bar after lunch, what surely does not go through your head is how broken the United States sugar market is. In fact, I’ll bet you didn’t even think about it as you snatched the last canary-yellow marshmallow peeps out of the 50-percent-off bin as you exited the grocery store.

Unfortunately, the U.S. sugar market is deeply distorted, and the taxpayers of New Hampshire and across the country pay the price.

Tightly controlled commodity programs and time-honored price supports guarantee sugar producers’ and processors’ profits and high prices. These programs poison the marketplace by driving up costs. They distort the economy and hurt our businesses.

Sugar is an ingredient in many consumer goods, from bread to ketchup to barbecue sauce to Easter candy, as well as dried fruit and juice drinks. The price supports of our domestic sugar program increase costs by approximately $2 billion annually for American consumers and businesses, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates current policy will cost taxpayers $374 million over the next decade.

Sugar today exists as the most tightly controlled commodity in the United States, and the price supports benefit only a very small group of very wealthy sugar producers, at the average New Hampshire citizen’s expense. Even worse: As sugar prices continue to fall, taxpayers could be on the hook for a sugar industry bailout with the U.S. Department of Agriculture considering buying 400,000 tons of sugar. That isn’t even a semi-sweet deal for you or me.

Thankfully this bittersweet problem can be corrected. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has championed a sugar reform act to reduce federal price supporters for U.S. sugar producers – a pragmatic fix to current flawed policies.

With co-sponsors in both parties and both the House and Senate, the reform came just a few votes short of breaking Washington gridlock to become law.

Shaheen’s legislation deserves another vote. It benefits taxpayers, consumers and small businesses by eliminating the Feedstock Flexibility program, projected to cost $193 million over the next 10 years, and increasing the USDA’s flexibility to secure an adequate supply of sugar for American businesses and repealing unnecessary trade restrictions which do not serve most citizens.

Shaheen’s plan to cut sugar subsidies merits a second chance. That is something to think about as you finish off what remains of that dark chocolate bunny.

(John Hattan lives in Concord.)

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