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Congress must reform unfair U.S. sugar regulations

Billy Sewell

Billy Sewell

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Like so many of you, I have been a small business owner for 22 years here in our community. The opportunity to invest and create businesses that provide quality products and experiences to area residents consistently reminds me of how fortunate our family has been to continue to have the faith and support of fellow community members.

As an entrepreneur, my goal has always been to maintain the family feel to our businesses and in particular, our Golden Corral franchises that are always known to bring families together, in the community, to enjoy a wonderful meal.

As you can imagine, our group of restaurants purchases a lot of food products and ingredients. It is by virtue of this experience that I first learned about the U.S. sugar program and its impact on small businesses like ours.

The U.S. sugar program dates all the way back to the Great Depression. Today, it is a complicated maze of price supports, quotas, government guarantees, and market allocations that raise the price of domestic sugar. And if you are like me, the first time you hear "market allocations," you ask yourself, "What the heck is that?"

In short, it means the government dictates to sugar farms what they can grow, how much they can grow, and how much they can sell. The result of the program is the price of sugar produced in the U.S. today is twice as high as the global average.

Who benefits from this? Not my restaurants. Not food manufacturers. Not bakeries. Not consumers. Not any business that uses sugar as an ingredient. Only sugar processors who get a higher price for their production and are shielded from foreign competition.

In fact, most of the benefits go to 13 mega-processors in a handful of states, which have been enriching themselves for decades with government support at the expense of the rest of us. Latest estimates put the direct cost to American consumers at somewhere between $2.4 and $4 billion per year.

For businesses like mine, having to pay more than our competitors abroad is a disadvantage. It means fewer resources to invest in our operations, in our employees, and in our communities. And the plain facts are these: The U.S. uses more sugar than it produces, but the sugar program further restricts our ability to import an adequate supply of sugar, protecting mega-processors from competition. This means that while businesses like mine are getting hurt, the sugar processors are getting protections.

The good news is that our representatives in Congress have an opportunity to finally modernize this program. The Sugar Policy Modernization Act (S. 2086) introduced by bipartisan leaders will modestly reform our country's sugar policy so that the sugar shakedown baked into every food, snack, and treat we eat is no longer a problem for everyone. I am proud that Rep. Virginia Foxx from the Tarheel State was the lead champion in the U.S. House of Representatives.

And now it is time for Sens. Burr and Tillis to step up and support this legislation. This month in Congress, they will likely get that opportunity as the Farm Bill comes up for a vote. I hope Sen. Burr and Sen. Tillis build on the existing bipartisan support for this legislation; modernizing a program that has not been touched in 80 years is common sense.

More broadly, North Carolina has been my home for decades — it's a place where I want to keep growing this business. Until the U.S. sugar program is reformed, however, North Carolina’s food manufacturing small businesses and workers will continue to suffer.

It’s time for Congress to say yes to fairness, yes to competition, and yes to protecting and creating American jobs.

Billy Sewell is the owner of Platinum Corral, owning and operating 10 Golden Corral restaurants throughout the state of North Carolina.

Note: Versions of the 2018 Farm Act have been approved by the U.S. House and Senate. Differences in the two, including differences on sugar reforms, are to be reconciled later this summer, according to reports from the Washington Post.

. But the bill faces challenges when lawmakers meet later this summer to reconcile gaping differences between the House and Senate bills.

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