The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Congress is Tricking Taxpayers to Pay More for Treats

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


As people eat their leftover Halloween candy, they may want to think about how much they paid for all those treats. Raw sugar in the United States regularly costs double or triple the world average, and this hurts food companies and leads to high prices for consumers at the grocery store.

U.S. laws artificially inflate the price of sugar to benefit a small cadre of farmers and processors. These artificial price controls come from a combination of production quotas, import restrictions, and subsidies which are overseen by the Department of Agriculture, and these price controls have more in common with the central planning of communist Cuba than they do with the free market model traditionally prized here in the United States.

American sugar is processed from both sugarcane and sugar beets. These growers (and the processors who use their crops), are lightly scattered across the Southeast portion of our country and in some parts of the upper Midwest. They have had a lot of support in Congress over the decades due to the vast amounts of money their lobbyists have handed out on Capitol Hill. Congress sets sugar policy every five years through a piece of legislation that is known as the Farm Bill.

The U.S. government has guaranteed a minimum price for sugar since 1981. For the American companies and small businesses that use sugar as an ingredient in their products, this high cost has cut into their margins and forced many to relocate outside of the United States. For even the most iconic candy companies like NECCO and Hershey, it’s the difference between staying in business or shutting down. 

In fact, 123,000 jobs were lost in the United States between 1997 and 2015 because of our bad sugar policy. For every grower that the U.S.’ sugar policy has helped, three manufacturing jobs have been harmed. Candy makers, bakers, and beverage manufactures are just some examples of the types of businesses who are forced to pass on the high price of sugar to their customers.

American consumers have lost between $2.4-$4 billion due to these bad policies, according to the American Enterprise Institute, a leading think tank in Washington. And, the members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate Agriculture Committees have stubbornly continued these protectionist sugar measures that hurt American consumers, year in and year out. 

The lobbyists working for the sugar barons have had an outsized influence over U.S. sugar policy during our whole lifetime, and this program remains the only commodity never to undergo a reform due to millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

At last, there is momentum for change.  A new Farm Bill is currently being considered in conference committee (a committee appointed by the House of Representatives and Senate to resolve disagreements on their two versions of the bill), and it’s time to tell Congress to finally repeal this protectionist scheme designed to transfer wealth from consumers to sugar growers and processors. 

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