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Is Congress Doomed to Repeat Historical Sugar Failures?

By Chuck Muth, President, Citizen Outreach

In an end-of-year column on trade, syndicated columnist George Will notes that “Since 1900, the portion of the American workforce in agriculture has declined from 40 percent to 2 percent.”

Meaning that while almost half the nation was capable of growing their own food a hundred years ago, almost none of us would be able to do so today.  And as eating is a necessity, not a luxury, that poses a real danger should global circumstances take a dramatic turn for the worst.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

“On August 10, 1917, shortly after the United States entered (World War I), the U.S. Food Administration was established to manage the wartime supply, conservation, distribution and transportation of food,” writes Laura Schumm in an article published on 

“Appointed head of the administration by President Woodrow Wilson, future-President Herbert Hoover developed a voluntary program that relied on Americans’ compassion and sense of patriotism to support the larger war effort.”

Among other vital foods, Hoover encouraged Americans to voluntarily reduce their consumption of sugar.  But the “voluntary” part was removed for World War II.

“On January 30, 1942, the Emergency Price Control Act granted the Office of Price Administration (OPA) the authority to set price limits and ration food and other commodities in order to discourage hoarding and ensure the equitable distribution of scarce resources.  

“By the spring, Americans were unable to purchase sugar without government-issued food coupons. . . . By the end of the war, restrictions on processed foods and other goods like gasoline and fuel oil were lifted, but the rationing of sugar remained in effect until 1947.”

But that couldn’t happen again in the U.S, right?  Maybe.  But what if some calamity – a natural disaster or government upheaval – were to strike, say, Brazil, where almost half of the world’s sugar exports are produced?  (Newsflash: Such circumstances are occurring this very minute.)

And what if, prior to such a calamity, unrestricted, government-subsidized cheap sugar dumped on the U.S. market had put the remaining few sugar farmers here out to pasture and Brazilian imports suddenly were no longer available?

Think it can’t happen?  Then you missed the news that the last remaining sugar plantation in Hawaii – formerly a sugar oasis – is now out of business and closed for good

Before the new Congress thinks of killing off the minimal protections currently afforded U.S. sugar producers against subsidized foreign competitors, it might want to learn from history.