Staff and wire report

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Wednesday defeated a farm bill amendment that would have ended the federal sugar program.

The Senate farm bill being debated this week keeps the federal sugar program intact.

But a proposed amendment by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to end the federal import restrictions on sugar was defeated Wednesday on a 45 to 54 vote.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, defended the program and its importance to his state's $1.1 billion sugar industry.

"The sugar program ensures sugar beet growers have access to the tools they need to produce an affordable, abundant food supply," he said. "U.S. farmers and producers have proven themselves time and again to be the most efficient in the world, but they cannot be left alone to face a trade market undermined by foreign government manipulation, especially at a time when domestic prices have dropped nearly 50 percent since 2010."

U.S. policy implements price supports to maintain a minimum price through loans to sugar processors, marketing control to regulate sales and indirectly regulate production by preventing surpluses and import quotas to regulate the flow of sugar into the U.S.

Opponents of the nation's sugar policy, including sugar buyers with the Coalition for Sugar Reform, estimate it costs consumers and businesses up to $3.5 billion per year, keeping U.S. sugar prices 64 to 92 percent higher than world averages during the past four years. I

Shaheen and Toomey argued the program prevents a free market and increases costs for consumers.

"What we have here is a sweet deal for sugar growers and a bad deal for consumers," Shaheen said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., countered that sugar costs in the U.S. are still 14 percent lower than the world average and that the sugar program maybe affects the cost of a candy bar by a "penny or two."

While the House farm bill proposal also maintains the sugar program, a tougher fight to keep it is expected in that chamber where a simple majority vote is needed for amendments. The Senate is debating amendments on a 60-vote threshold.

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