Local restaurant owners seek sugar reform

Rosalie Genus | 3/8/2018, midnight

Los Angeles is known for its endless variety of cuisines. From Thai foods to Spanish plates and everything in between, there is no shortage of pallet-pleasing dishes. We’ve got food trucks and fast casual, international delicacies, and some of America’s most well-known eateries. It’s a rich food culture that all of Los Angeles should be proud of.   

 Unfortunately, though, an age-old federal program is driving up the costs of the ingredients in our favorite foods – it is a real problem that Congress must fix. 

 The program I mention is the U.S. Sugar Program, which is a Depression-era policy that has subsidized the sugar-producing industry for far too long. And it has been at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and small business owners like me. 

 As a small business owner and someone who continues to be burdened by the sugar program, let me explain how it works. The program guarantees the minimum price of sugar through a combination of federal price supports, market allotments, trade restrictions, and government-guaranteed loans. It is a complex web that favors only a dozen big sugar growers over millions of small businesses, including bakeries, restaurants, candy shops, grocery stores, and coffee shops to name a few. 

 In fact, the U.S. sugar program costs small businesses between $2.4 and $4 billion in hidden fees each year. This all happens because the government loans sugar growers and producers the money to guarantee a profit. This sets the price of sugar and forces consumers, food manufacturers, and small business owners like me to pay more for sugar– which is double the price of the rest of the world.

It’s not exactly a secret why this policy remains in place. The sugar growing industry understands what makes lawmakers tick – money. Sugar growers and their special interest groups have donated $31 million to members of Congress, and have spent more than $85 million on lobbying efforts over the last ten years to defend these anti-competitive protections. Much of that money was spent on several lawmakers from right here in California. 

Small business owners don’t have as much money as big sugar. As a result, we’re at a severe competitive disadvantage, and instead of using our resources to hire new employees and invest in our businesses, they’re going toward inflated sugar prices. Overall, the sugar program has killed 123,000 well-paying, stable jobs between 1997 and 2015, and that number continues to grow. 

Thankfully, it’s not all sour news for Golden State business owners. A group of bipartisan lawmakers has recognized how destructive the sugar subsidy has been and introduced the Sugar Policy Modernization Act. Just as it sounds, this legislation would modernize our national sugar policy, upending the U.S. sugar program once and for all.

California’s-own Sen. Diane Feinstein is one of the original co-sponsors of the Sugar Policy Modernization Act, and that’s no  surprise – it creates a large barrier for the majority of her constituents. There are 2,379 food-manufacturing businesses across the state, supporting over 90,000 jobs and $3.6 billion in annual payroll. We are a major economic force, and the jobs we create are very important in each of the communities we serve.

We are thankful for the Senator for her great support of the small business community and for her leadership on an issue that has long needed reform. Hopefully, Sen. Kamala Harris and the rest of the California delegation will look past the bought and paid-for-policies of sugar growers and sign on to this important legislation. In doing so, our food industry, and thus our communities, will be stronger and more stable.

Rosalie Genus owns and operates Shabazz Bakery (AKA Rosalie’s Restaurant and Bakery) in Inglewood.