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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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Big Sugar

Written by Ron Noon at 22:37 on Saturday, May 24th 2014

The term Big Sugar was not used by many people in Britain ten years ago when I’d shifted my focus from Love Lane to reading up and researching materials on the American white stuff and Florida Sugar in particular. In the US the phrase was frequently used because of the DISPROPORTIONATE political influence the Sugar industry wielded and a shockingly egregious Sugar Program which benefited a few growers while the Government and the customer picked up the tab for financing these corporate welfare benefits. 

The novelist and former Miami Times investigative reporter Carl Hiassen was a real thorn in the side of Big Sugar. “Every few years, the Congress of the United States of America voted generous price supports for a handful of agricultural millionaires in the great state of Florida. The crop that made them millionaires was sugar, the price of which was grossly inflated and guaranteed by the U.S. Government. This brazen act of plunder accomplished two things: it kept American growers very wealthy, and it undercut the struggling economies of poor Caribbean nations, which could n’t sell their own bounties of cane to the United States at even half the bogus rate.” (Some excellent passages by Hiassen about the degradation of the Everglades are contained in this link:


H Dan Miller a Republican Congressman from Florida was another “irritant” to Big Sugar and testified in front of a House committee that “the subsidized production of sugar in Florida results in phosphorous-laden run-off flowing into the Everglades, which contributes to the destruction of this fragile ecosystem. Amazingly, the Federal Government continues to subsidize sugar producers, even as Congress participates in multi-billion dollar projects to repair the damage done to the Everglades.”

The toxicity of those phosphorous run offs and the damage also to American democracy was what I alluded to in the last blog. Nowhere is there a greater gap between the American Government’s free trade rhetoric and the protectionist policies that keep out third world growers. Allowing the power of Big Sugar to remain unregulated resulted eventually in what ought to have been a seminal moment (a Tobacco moment!) when a New York Times editorial in November 2003 made an explicit call for an end to the egregious and costly American Sugar Program.

“Sugar growers in this country, long protected from global competition, have had a great run at the expense of just about everyone else — refineries, candy manufacturers, other food companies, individual consumers and farmers in the developing world. But now the nation’s sugar program, which guarantees a domestic price for raw sugar that can be as much as three times the world price, needs to be terminated. It has become far too costly to America’s global economic and strategic interests.” Precisely so and In its concluding sentence it rejected their opposition to trade liberalization and advanced the ethical and economic argument “for the handful of individuals who control the sugar business in this country to start thinking about a new line of work, and be grateful for the long run they had”.

Less than six years later the power of Florida Sugar and the Cuban American Fanjul brothers in particular was such that Tate & Lyle sugars were gobbled up by the American Refining Company and the lag between intent and actual achievement of the NYT battle-cry is much wider than then!  There is a greater public interest in the public health dimension to overconsumption of sugar given that it is so obviously a commodity which patently has the power to overcome the finite limits of the stomach.The new Sugar Buster on the Block is endocrinologist Professor Robert Lustig from the University of California, who gave a lecture on May 26th 2009 entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. It’s subsequent posting on YouTube went viral and there is now not only a debate about “Is Sugar Toxic” but also an Action on Sugar Campaign that was launched in Britain in January of this year.

Aspects of these debates will hopefully feature in subsequent postings on our site but to conclude this short blog here’s a letter to the NYT which I sent over the pond last November on the 10th anniversary of their “you should be grateful for the long run you’ve had” editorial.

Dear sir,
          On Saturday November 29th 2003 my morale as an intrepid sugar buster from over the pond in Liverpool was turbo-charged by your newspaper’s trenchantly argued Opinion column on America’s Sugar Daddies and its stirring conclusion that “the handful of individuals who control the sugar business…ought to start thinking about a new line of work and be grateful for the long run they had”! Surely with the imprimatur of the NYT many of my colleagues and students who hitherto had become a little bored with my frequent rants about the disproportionate political clout of “Big Sugar” and how the egregious American Sugar Program diffused costs amongst millions of consumers and concentrated benefits on a relatively few growers, (especially in the Sunshine State of Florida), would now start taking me more seriously? At least it was a little less parochial than my early noughties rants against the European Beet Boys and the equally egregious Common Agricultural Policy

There were absences in your editorialising relating to the toxicity of the product, but the public health dimension of excess sugar consumption was clearly linked to the rigged Sugar Program and indeed the shocking threats made earlier on in 2003 by the American Sugar Association in response to the World Health Organisation’s gentle recommendation that no more than 10 per cent of consumers calorie intake should come from “added sugars”!  The bible was a land of milk and honey not sugar and spice and mankind did without added “industrial sugars” for millennia. Such an incontrovertible biological fact was never going to survive ASA shock & awe tactics which demanded Congress end WHO funding unless it scrapped its guidelines on “healthy eating”!

That bullying/blackmailing strategy was strengthened by the mobilisation of the lobby’s affiliation biased scientists (ABS) and professional dissimulators who questioned the scientific foundation of the WHO report. Indeed the President of the ASA claimed they were “not opposed to a global strategy in the fight against obesity…but we want that solution to be based on the preponderance of science”! Whose Science?

  The scuppering of the WHO and the fizzling out of what I’d hoped was Big Sugar’s “tobacco moment” has perversely resulted in a strengthening of the links between sweetness and power and even a new found sucrose solidarity between cane and beet producers against the claims of the Corn Refiners who litigiously insist that their High Fructose Corn Syrup is as natural as sugar! There is nothing natural about any processed sugars but ten years on from your lapidary editorial, who in the world of Big Sugar, sectarian rivalries aside, is introspecting on a “new line of work”? I am.