Here’s how sugar supports in the U.S. Farm Bill create toxic algae blooms

Big Sugar has a very sweet deal. 

U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals — which grow hundreds of thousands of acres of sugarcane in Florida — have long profited from federal protections in the Farm Bill, which is reauthorized by Congress every five years. The current Farm Bill expires September 30, 2023.

Protectionist policies dating back to the 1930s benefit the industry through low-interest loans, price supports and import quotas, all designed to keep the price of sugar in the United States higher than it is on the global market. This cost, paid for by American consumers and taxpayers, creates windfall profits the industry then uses to buy influence in the form of lobbying and campaign contributions.

This rigged system safeguards policies that protect Big Sugar at the expense of Florida’s water quality. Lake Okeechobee is held artificially high during the dry season to provide near-perfect irrigation for sugarcane in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Capacity in taxpayer-funded stormwater treatment areas — which are man-made marshes — is prioritized for sugarcane runoff instead of Lake O water during the rainy season. With no other option when lake levels get too high, polluted water from Lake O is dumped east and west to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and Lake Worth Lagoon, where it fuels toxic algae blooms that harm businesses, threaten marine life, and imperil human health.

This endless cycle plays out each time the Farm Bill is renewed by Congress. Reform is long overdue. The 2023 Farm Bill is being negotiated right now — and it’s an opportunity to hold Big Sugar responsible for this harm to the environment and public health. Stand with us as we advocate for reforming the sugar program in the Farm Bill.

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