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Sugar Shortage, Yes. Crisis? Not So Much.

On August 7th, some of the country's largest food processors, including Mars, Hershey's, General Mills and Kraft, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stating that the country was on the verge of a massive sugar shortage and that, without raising the quotas on the amount of tariff-free sugar they could import, the United States will run out of sugar, "consumers will pay higher prices, food manufacturing jobs will be at risk and trading patterns will be distorted."

So are we in the midst of a sugar crisis? Sugar prices are at a 28-year high, and there is a shortage worldwide because of a drought in India, cuts in sugar-beet production in the EU, a rain-soaked harvest in Brazil and the diversion of sugar in Brazil to ethanol production. According to the International Sugar Organization, demand worldwide may exceed supply by as much as 5 million metric tons through next September.

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But the shortage US food companies are wailing about exists mostly outside the country. There is still plenty of domestically-produced sweet stuff to go around, albeit at slightly higher prices, though according to the American Sugar Association, at current prices it's only slightly more expensive than tariff-free sugar when import costs are factored in.

The recent uproar, ultimately, was about sugar prices not supplies. And while it may be beneficial to both American food manufacturers and American Farmers to open up sugar markets.

If prices skyrocket on the wholesale level, Karen Hatfield, co-owner and pastry chef at Hatfield's, which is currently on hiatus as they prepare to move to their new location in the old Red Pearl Kitchen space on Melrose, says "I think pastry chefs will fight for sugar, but you might see smaller, less sweet desserts that cost more money."

Pastry chef Zoe Nathan, of Santa Monica's Huckleberry Café and a James Beard semi-finalist for 2009, agrees. With substantial increases in the price of sugar, she says, she'd have to raise prices. But "if it does effect us, I'm down for the challenge. I use a lot of different sugars and am big on maple syrup and honey."


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