Ag Policy Blog

Current Sugar Policies Probably Save the Federal Budget

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Well, the sugar fight was resolved on the Senate floor Wednesday.

It was a fascinating debate, though it was also incredibly illogical.

Arguments from senators to open up the U.S. sugar market were that Americans pay $14 billion more or so for food with sugar than if the U.S. didn't have such protectionist measures for U.S. sugar growers.

Fair enough. But the Congressional Budget Office stated that scrapping a portion of the sugar protections would save taxpayers about $82 million over 10 years.

Never have I seen such a bogus budget score.

Outside of oil, perhaps no two products dominate the American economy and craving more than sugar and sodium. To steal from Dr. Marcus Brody from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "You are meddling with powers you cannot possibly comprehend."

You see, the points not raised on the Senate floor during Wednesday's sugar debate were the underlying issues we hear so much about throughout the year. Senators ignored American eating habits and obesity rates.

The CDC reports more than 35% of adults are obese, as are nearly 17% of children. Reuters reported last September that by 2030 there could be 7.9 million new cases of type 2 diabetes every year. Currently, we average about 1.9 million cases. Rates of heart disease are also going to triple to about 6.8 million cases by that time. If those rates hold up, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests we would add about $550 billion to the cost of health care by 2030.…

We already know the obesity levels among young men ages 18-21 are making it hard for our military to find enough people who qualify for service.

Therefore, when considering the cost of cheaper sugar and the budget savings in the farm bill over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office also should be factoring in the projected growth of obesity and medical conditions that would come from having even cheaper sugar.

I could only fathom how much my own health would adjust over time to the potential of cheaper sugar.

Stop and think about how much more Medicare or Medicaid would cost if the country could tap into just a little more sugar supply. Medicare's budget would collapse based on the cost of scooters alone, or "mobility assistive equipment," in Medicare vernacular. I bet the increased costs of mobility assistive equipment under a cheaper sugar policy over 10 years would blow the lid off the $82 million in savings in the farm bill. To be brutally honest, you would have to replace those scooters with U-Hauls in some cases.

Then there are costs to health-care coverage for federal employees and the costs to the military to either reduce the weight of its recruits or pay more for healthier people to enlist.

In other words, the current sugar policy may be protectionist to some and it may make the cost of processed food slightly more expensive. But, in the grand scheme of things, the current sugar program might be the only thing keeping our longer-term federal budget from collapsing under our own weight.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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Jay Mcginnis
5/25/2013 | 6:51 AM CDT
Chris,,, your logic sounds socialist!!! Shouldn't the lobbyist with the most money be allowed to buy the government policy of his choice, that is what capitalism is all about!
Timothy Gieseke
5/24/2013 | 9:14 AM CDT
Chris - I understand your logic, but I don't think applying it to one farm commodity at a time is good policy. If your argument is extrapolated across the farm bill, then doesn't that imply that farm bill subsidies and support that cover risks for farmers and encourage production is the mother of all obesity. Basically your argument is that cheap food policy is causing obesity, but cheap food is the result of a safety net and blanket that makes farmers feel cozy enough to plant as much corn, soy and a few other commodities on any land they can get their planter on. I agree that the food system in this country and much of the globe is interconnected to health of humans and the natural capital we rely on to produce it. But it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say that farm policy is or will be the cause of obesity based on how we subsidize ag. I mean, I agree with you and it is perfectly logical, but those are fighting words.
5/24/2013 | 9:11 AM CDT
WELL SAID !!!!!!!!!