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Not So Sweet: Fried Caught Up in Big Sugar Spin

In controversy over the burning of sugarcane fields, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried claimed reporters were being bribed by environmentalists.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Nikki Fried is under fire for seemingly protecting Big Sugar’s interests.

In June 2019, Belle Glade residents sued U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals and nine other defendants to halt the burning of sugarcane fields just before harvest. The process allows for an easier harvest but produces black soot that can be toxic. The lawsuit sought class-action status for 40,000 residents. The residents said sugarcane burning had exposed them to health risks and reduced property values. Sugarcane farmers have maintained that the case against air quality in the farming region is without merit.

In her role as agriculture commissioner, Fried announced that she would create new rules to strengthen regulations on burning. But The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday that the new rules instituted by Fried didn’t make much of a change at all.


The story quoted Belle Glade residents who said that “nothing has changed” since Fried mandated “historic changes” in 2019 when she became agriculture commissioner. Slightly altered regulations gave a better appearance, but the sugar companies used that fact to defend their actions in the suit.

Fried’s campaign insists she made “historic” reforms and those vulnerable communities exposed to the burning are protected. Fried’s election committee, known as Florida Consumers First, received $265,000 from Associated Industries of Florida, a big-business lobbying group. Nearly half of the funding placed into AIF’s committees comes from large corporations like U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.


Big Sugar has been controversial for many years in Florida. The sugar industry needs as much water as possible in Lake Okeechobee for irrigation during dry seasons. But fishing guides and environmentalists want lower levels in the lake to allow fresh water to be sent to the Everglades and to avoid contamination of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

On Sunday, Fried accused reporters of being paid by the Sierra Club to write the story. But she failed to provide any details in support of her claim. Instead, she told reporters that the Sierra Club wanted a complete ban on cane burning, which she couldn’t legally do, Politico columnist Gary Fineout reported.

Online reactions to Fried’s comments were pessimistic. “Again, picking fights with climate activists and journalists sure seems like a winning strategy,” the Sierra Club of Florida tweeted.

Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who endorsed Charlie Crist, wrote, “Democratic nominee for Governor using sugar talking points and/or lying about reporters being bribed to write a story. It’s not good, and people need to understand that.”