Halloween: a time for costumes, trick-or-treating and reviving Congressional battles over federal programs. At least that's what's happening with two major industries that have opposing interests on sweet tooth issues.
The sugar industry wants the federal government's sugar program -- which places tariffs on most foreign sugar -- to continue as it is in the current farm bill. The candy industry wants it repealed or reformed.
The Coalition for Sugar Reform, which includes the National Confectioners Association, sent Congress a Halloween-themed message today. "The U.S. Sugar Program" is scrawled across the top in blood-dripping font and below are "four scary reasons" why the coalition wants Congress should reform the program, including manufacturing job losses and high costs to consumers.
An accompanying release from the coalition also quotes Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Penn., and Danny Davis, D-Ill., who call on Congress to reform the sugar program.
"Halloween reminds us that while the sugar program is a treat for wealthy farmers who benefit from the sugar subsidies, it's nothing but a trick for the millions of American families who pay a hidden tax on sugar every time they go to the grocery store," Pitts said in the release.
On the other end of the fight is the American Sugar Alliance, which casts the candy industry's release as being in poor taste, given it came out after Sandy devastated eastern parts of the country.
"America's sugar farmers are no strangers to dealing with powerful hurricanes and other weather disasters, which is why we would never send out a petty press release hours after millions of Americans had their lives turned upside down," ASA spokesman Phillip Hayes says in a statement to the Alley. "Government leaders are rightly focused today on helping communities pick up the pieces. It's surprising that lobbyists for some of the most profitable food companies in the world have instead focused on scoring cheap political points, putting U.S. farmers out of business, importing more subsidized foreign sugar, and boosting their already bloated profits. America has more important things to deal with right now than bickering over a successful no-cost sugar policy."
Strong words, but ASA had already begun its Halloween messaging before the storm. On Oct. 25, the group put out a Halloween-themed statement of its own that accuses the candy industry of charging consumers more for products while paying sugar farmers less.
ASA spent $670,000 internally on third quarter lobbying on sugar-related provisions in the farm bill and on trade agreements, as well as $40,000 to Combest, Sell & Associates and $60,000 to North Bridge Communications to work on the farm bill.
In the third quarter, NCA spent $110,000 internally to lobby the House, Senate, USDA and FDA on "issues relating to the confectionary industry." The association also paid Podesta Group $50,000 to lobby on the sugar program; $10,000 to Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC; and $10,000 to Altrius Group.