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Another Voice: This year's farm bill must fix sugar policy

By George Stege

For over a century, Ford Gum Company has called Western New York home. It’s here that we produce our iconic products from Smarties to Big League Chew. This year, Congress will be considering a bill that will have a major impact on American manufacturers like Ford Gum: the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill comes up only every five years. This is the year decisions for the next five years will be made. One of the greatest inequities that have been allowed to exist for decades is the past Farm Bills mandating the federal government control the supply of sugar that can be grown and imported into the United States. This forces U.S. food manufacturers and consumers to pay a much higher price for sugar than many of our foreign competitors. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 2 that the “settle” cost of sugar in the U.S. is 25.2 cents a pound where world sugar users only pay 13.7 cents a pound. According to a 2017 study by the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. sugar program costs American businesses and consumers anywhere from $2.4 to $4 billion dollars annually.

Is it any wonder that Ford Gum, located in Akron, is now the only gumball manufacturer left in the entire country? Most of our competitors have fled to Canada where they can obtain sugar at world pricing and because of NAFTA, transform that sugar into gumballs and import finished gumballs into the USA duty-free. Ford Gum, which employs 150 people, has experienced over a 30 percent decrease in gumball sales since the last Farm Bill in 2013.

This year there is a bipartisan push for change under the Sugar Policy Modernization Act which does not give U.S. manufacturers an advantage but does attempt to level the playing field by allowing more access to sugar. Ford Gum is very grateful to Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, for his continued support of sugar reform and of our efforts to help keep jobs in Western New York. We were honored to host the congressman at our factory to show him what American manufacturing means for American jobs. We think it is time for our other area representatives – Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport – as well as Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to also support this bipartisan effort to level the playing field and help keep jobs here.

Because until these facts shame us and until they stir us to action – the gross inequities of the past will continue to haunt us as more jobs will be lost and consumers will be forced to continue to pay higher prices in the marketplace. The time to act is now and not wait for another five years to pass. It’s time to let the sugar policy of the past fade into the obscurity it so richly deserves.

George Stege is the CEO of Ford Gum & Machine Co. in Akron.

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