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I had no idea that in the United States, we have such a complex sugar policy, but we do. According to Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, “U.S. sugar is the single most heavily protected agricultural commodity.” The USDA guarantees a set price to U.S. sugar producers up to a certain quantity. About 85 percent of the sugar in our country must be produced domestically. The other 15 percent can come from other countries, but that is heavily regulated, too.

Because of all this regulation, processed food manufacturers are concerned that the United States might run out of sugar soon. In a letter to USDA on Aug. 5, several of these manufacturers asked Secretary Vilsack to increase the import quotas because his own experts “forecast unprecedented shortages.”

According to the USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, the United States will end the next fiscal year with less than 13 days’ worth of sugar on hand, unless imports are increased. If this forecast is accurate, the nation will virtually run out of sugar.
There are a couple of things that make me laugh about this letter. The first is it’s signed by companies like Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp., Mars, Incorporated, and The Hershey Company (among others). My first thought is, “Oh, no, if we run out of sugar, these companies won’t be able to make junk food. We’ll all be forced to eat healthier foods!”

The other thing that makes me laugh is that we aren’t really running out of sugar. We have an extra 13 days worth more than we need and the ability to keep growing it. Notice the letter didn’t say our nation will run out of sugar. It said our nation will virtually run out of sugar. Virtually means almost or nearly.

What these companies are most likely afraid of is not running out of sugar, but having to pay more money for sugar from the United States growers. If the quotas are lifted or at least changed so that more sugar can be imported, the processed food manufacturers can continue to make cheap junk food.

Marion Nestle was interviewed on the Colbert Report about what she calls this “manufactured crisis.” She admits on her Food Politics blog that she was a bit unnerved by Colbert. If you want to know all the facts, you really need to read her blog post, What I Didn't Say on Colbert. However, it’s worth your time to watch the video of her interview, too, because “sugar is Jesus’ dandruff.”

MNN homepage photo: Martin Crook

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Are we running out of sugar?
Is there are sugar crisis? If you judge by the tone of Stephen Colbert's voice, there must be.