by Marion Nestle
Jul 15 2016

Big Sugar and Florida’s Everglades: Money Talks

The Los Angeles Times has reprinted a story about Big Sugar’s hold on Florida politics.  The story appeared first in the Miami Herald (but don’t even try to read it there; the ads make the site impenetrable).

The LA Times version is worth a look.

Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns. (The total does not include federal contributions.)

It appears to be money well spent. On issue after issue, regulators, legislators and governors have erred on the side of softening the impact of adverse rules and regulations on cane growers and other powerful and polluting agriculture interests, including cattle operations north of Lake Okeechobee.

The sugar industry beat back a voter-approved amendment that would have forced it to pay for cleaning up its own nutrient-rich runoff into the Everglades, instead shifting much of the cost to taxpayers. It won repeated delays of strict water quality standards. It has fended off calls for buyouts even after one of the largest companies, U.S. Sugar, offered to sell itself to the state. And it has undermined attempts to use a second constitutional amendment, Amendment 1, to be used to buy farmland for Everglades cleanup.

You have to love U.S. sugar policy.  It’s just so weird.

On the one hand, we have dietary guidelines that say “Limit calories from added sugars.”

On the other, we support sugar prices with a system of sugar quotas and tariffs that makes U.S. sugar cost more than sugar on the world market (but not enough to decrease consumption).

We let sugar producers indiscriminately pollute land and water and “encourage” elected officials to turn a blind eye and shift the costs of cleanup to taxpayers.

If ever we needed evidence why linking agricultural policy to health and environmental policies is so essential, the contradictions of sugar policy make the case.