On Easter Sunday, children across the country wake to discover baskets of chocolate and candy. They search for plastic eggs stuffed with more candy, and many of them enjoy brightly colored marshmallow chicks and bunnies, world famous Peeps.
I doubt that many children think about how Peeps are made or who makes them, but they are made right in our state by the Just Born company of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. While Just Born is best known for the Peeps, they also make other candy you've seen on store shelves like Mike and Ike and Peanut Chews.
Just Born and other candy companies contribute thousands of jobs to our state economy. Many of you may know someone who works at a local candy company. These are good jobs making a product that can be enjoyed in moderation.
Unfortunately, this industry is suffering because of the high price of its chief commodity--sugar. In the United States, sugar costs are almost double the average cost in the rest of the world. The primary reason why sugar is so expensive here is a federal government program that tightly controls supply and production.
If you want to produce sugar in the U.S., you need permission from the government. Once you have the right permits, then you have to produce only the amount of sugar that the government allows. Additionally, the government tightly controls the supply for imported sugar through quotas.
Is this because our benevolent government wants to protect American teeth and waistlines? Actually, this program was created to ensure the profits of sugar producers. The biggest beneficiaries are a handful of producers located in south Florida and the Midwest. They pull in billions of dollars every year in guaranteed profits. It is rarely a bad year to be involved in producing sugar.
There are fewer than 5,000 sugar farms nationwide. By comparison, 600,000 Americans in every state work in sugar-using industries. According to the Department of Commerce, our nation lost 112,000 jobs in this industry between 1997 and 2009.
These jobs are moving to Mexico, Canada, and other countries where the price of sugar is much less. International companies are reluctant to locate new facilities in the U.S. when they know that the cost of raw materials will be so much more than other countries.
I'm not the only Member of Congress that is concerned that American jobs are being lost. I've joined together with Chicago-area Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) to introduce the Free Market Sugar Act, H.R. 1385. This bipartisan bill opens up the domestic sugar processing market and allows companies to compete.
In addition to the legislation in the House, Rep. Davis and I have joined together with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to create the Congressional Sugar Reform Caucus. The Senators are working on companion legislation that they will soon introduce in their chamber.
This is a bipartisan, bicameral effort because we are tired of seeing jobs lost because of anti-competitive government intrusion. The government shouldn't be picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
When Rep. Davis and I introduced our bill, we were joined by the purchasing manager for Just Born, Tim Jones. He noted that the price they pay for sugar has doubled in just the last four years. They don't want a handout from the government. They just want to be able to compete on fair ground.
While the sugar program might not make much sense when we consider the American jobs at risk, the reason it continues to exist is a vigorous lobbying campaign among the biggest sugar producers. Recently, a Minnesota Public Radio investigation found that American Crystal Sugar, one of the largest sugar processors, has quadrupled its campaign donations in the past decade.
Lobbying dollars shouldn't matter when American jobs are on the line. Democrats and Republicans agree that it is time for the sugar industry to stand on its own.