Melacon tapped to co-chair Sugar Caucus

Reynauld Songy
May 7, 2007
Steve Collins
May 9, 2007
Reynauld Songy
May 7, 2007
Steve Collins
May 9, 2007

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-Napoleonville) has been a steadfast advocate of Louisiana sugar growers and processors, dating from his stint as president of the Thibodaux-based promotion group the American Sugar Cane League, which he headed from 1993 until 2004 when he was elected to the House.

The second-term Congressman announced on April 26 that the House is tapping his experience dealing with sugar producers, naming him co-chair for 2007 of the House’s recently-formed Sugar Caucus.

The other chair is Idaho Republican Mike Simpson.

A caucus “is not a formal committee,” said Melancon Communications Director Robin Winchell. “It’s more like an informal working group, a way of talking about different issues.”

The Sugar Caucus was created early in 2006 primarily to strengthen the U.S. sugar industry’s hand against candy producers, who “want even cheaper sugar,” Winchell said.

“We have some of the lowest sugar prices in the world (and) that’s good for consumers,” she said. “Candy producers are lobbying to change” the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s sugar policy, she said.

Current sugar policy allows the USDA to manipulate sugar prices by “restrict[ing] foreign imports,” and by “control[ling] the amount of sugar American farmers are allowed to sell,” according to an information packet provided by Melancon’s office.

“The goal is to avoid oversupply, to keep prices stable,” Winchell said.

The House Sugar Caucus is expecting a battle over sugar prices during debate on the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill, which should be voted on by late summer or early fall, she said.

The bill is an update of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, which “provide[d] for the continuation of agricultural programs through fiscal year 2007,” according to a Jan. 2, 2003, House Report of the Committee on Agriculture.

“It’s a 2002 Farm Bill reauthorization,” she said. “It’s a general agricultural bill” covering “all aspects of agriculture. Sugar is just one part of it,” Winchell said.

The Sugar Caucus wants to “make sure the current sugar policy is in the (2007) Farm Bill,” she said. “Sugar producers want the current policy.”

USDA control over the U.S. sugar supply ensures “stable prices,” which “eliminate the need for government subsidies,” she said.

Winchell said that “if we made (sugar) like other (farm) commodities with subsidies, it would cost (the U.S. government) one to two billion dollars a year.”

At least since 2002, sugar producers in the U.S. have received no federal government subsidies, according to the information packet.

In fact, “[s]ince the 2002 Farm Bill took effect, sugar policy has generated $239 million in net revenues for the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” the information states.

“Most sugar producers don’t want subsidies,” Winchell said. “They want to continue the program.”

The 2003 House Agriculture Committee Report states that “[s]ugar producers have not been immune to the problem of low prices… The main culprit for these low prices is oversupply, caused by increased imports from Canada and Mexico and increased domestic production.”

A U.S. Senate Sweetener Caucus has operated for over 15 years. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is one of the co-chairs of the caucus. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is a member.

Melancon currently serves as vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Also, he is vice chair of the Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.