If Willy Wonka were an American today, he would close his chocolate factory and fly his glass elevator to another country. That's because the price of sugar in the United States is more than double the global market price: Sugar in other countries costs 25 cents per pound on average, while U.S. sugar sells for 70 cents per pound. The U.S. government imposes tariffs to protect American sugar growers, but that costs Americans $3.5 billion per year.
In a Senate debate earlier this week, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the import restriction stabilizes the American marketplace while costing taxpayers nothing. But in 2003, when the Kraft LifeSavers plant in Holland, Mich., relocated to Quebec, 600 employees lost their jobs. I called Stabenow's office requesting clarification, but no one returned my calls.
To trace the effect of sugar pricing on candy, navigate the gooey relationship between cost and weight. Many candy products have consistently become smaller. In 2011, Mars Inc. reduced the size of the Snickers bar by 11 percent or .41 ounces, maintaining its original price. Producers of other sugary products have done the same. General Mills cut Haagen Dazs ice cream from 14 to 12.5 ounces, keeping the container top at the same size to hide the shrinkage.
Consequences of the import restriction also dribble down to sugar farmers outside of the United States who have lost America's huge market for sugar. Economist Victor Klaar said the sugar import restriction ends up harming the poor: "In order to protect the livelihood of sugar beet growers in Michigan, we ban sugar produced in other nations. Maybe we ought to open up avenues of opportunity for the truly poor among us, even if they happen to lie outside our borders."
The Hershey Company increased wholesale candy prices by 11 percent in 2008. Perhaps from his grave, Milton Hershey regrets the 1946 sale of his sugar plantation in Cuba, which held 60,000 acres of land, five raw sugar mills, and 251 miles of railroad track, complete with a school for orphans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.