After visiting the local plant where M&Ms, Twix and Pretzel M&Ms are produced, he and Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Economic Development Doug Berry stopped at the Cleveland Daily Banner to talk about the Free Market Sugar Act (H.R. 1385). Fleischmann is a primary co-sponsor of the legislation intended to reduce the cost of sugar by eliminating price supports, marketing allotments, import quotas and the repeal of the Feedstock Flexibility Program.
He said price supports and loan guarantees alone keep the cost of sugar artificially high. Though the U.S. is an importer of raw sugar, the amount is restricted to protect American growers; and, each beet processor and sugar cane mill is under a government-imposed and legally binding limit on what it can produce each year. Finally, the fourth artificial leg propping up sugar prices is the Feedstock Flexibility Program, established in 2008. The program mandates that in times of surplus, the U.S. government must buy sugar and resell it to ethanol plants at a loss.
“My fervent support of this bill is to show my support for the tremendous Mars plant in Cleveland,” he said.
The local plant went through a $60 million expansion, resulting in the addition of 50 jobs with the prospect of another 30. The company currently employs about 500 people.
Berry said MARS is the largest local user of processed sugar. Flowers Bakery is the second largest. That company employs about 300 workers.
“Those two alone are over 800 jobs,” Berry said. “When you consider smaller businesses which might be using sugar, you might have as many as 1,300 jobs impacted by this bill.”
MARS, Fleischmann said, spends $74 million annually on sugar, which has doubled in price over the past two years.
“One of the reasons it has doubled is because in the U.S., [the price is] kept artificially high. The significance of that to MARS and Flowers Bakery in Cleveland, and McKee Bakery in Collegedale, is they are American manufacturers,” he said. “Other candy companies have gone to Mexico and Canada because in those countries, their sugar price is closer to the world market price.”
Fleischmann said he is the only House member of the Tennessee delegation who has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill and will be working to convince others to support the legislation.
“It’s important because it directly impacts jobs right here in Bradley County,” he said.
Processed sugar is mainly derived from sugar cane grown in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii; and sugar beets grown in Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and California.
According to a handout produced by the Coalition for Sugar Reform, the U.S. has never been self-sufficient in sugar production. A portion of the nation’s sweet-tooth needs must be imported from developing countries in South America, Central America, Asia and the Caribbean. The sugar is imported in its raw form and then refined for use in food products.
“My main reason (for supporting the legislation) is to protect jobs and provide jobs in Bradley County and in the 3rd District,” he said. “It’s also very important to the American consumer because if sugar prices are kept artificially high, the candy bar the American consumer goes out and buys is also that much higher.”
Fleischmann said H.R. 1385 is specifically for sugar. It does not affect other farm commodities produced in the U.S., and the legislation is not setting a trend of eliminating price supports for other crops.
However, there is a movement to eliminate farm subsidies for corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, rice and crop insurance in the 2012 Farm Bill. The argument is that farm subsidies benefit a few large corporations, but do very little for small producers — the intended beneficiaries in the Great Depression Era when the programs were instituted.