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MSU Economics Professor Featured In Netflix Documentary Series On The Business Of Sugar

A Montana State University economics professor known for his research on domestic and international agricultural trade policy is featured on a new Netflix documentary series, Rotten, which explores environmental and equity issues associated with food production and the politics of food policy.

Vincent Smith, co-director of the MSU Initiative for Regulation and Applied Economic Analysis in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics in the College of Agriculture and College of Letters and Science, is interviewed in A Sweet Deal, the fourth episode of the series’ second season. The episode, which premiered earlier this month, examines the sugar cane industry in Florida and the Dominican Republic.

On average, U.S. sugar prices are about twice as high as global prices due to federal limits on imports and domestic production, according to academic research presented in the episode.

“The stakes associated with ensuring the sugar program continues are high for producers, especially in the concentrated sugar cane industry in Florida, and leads major processing companies to actively seek support from state and federal policy makers,” Smith said.

But sugar subsidies are costly for workers, consumers and taxpayers, he said.

“In the United States, fewer than 4,500 farm businesses produce sugar,” said Smith. “Yet, a broad range of studies consistently finds that on average the U.S. sugar program costs taxpayers between $3 and $4 billion annually in subsidies.”

Smith said producers contacted him to be featured in the episode based on his work on a two-volume book, Agricultural Policy in Disarray, published in 2018. He has presented research from that book during briefings of more than 200 congressional delegations on the structure and impact of the U.S. sugar program. Smith’s interview took place in New York City in late January, and he appears in several segments throughout the episode, which is available for online streaming.

Rotten, which premiered in 2018, was created by Zero Point Zero Production, the company behind the travel and food shows Parts Unknown and No Reservations. It examines the ins and outs of the world’s food supply chain to reveal hidden forces that shape what we eat, according to the series synopsis.

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