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VTDigger: Leahy and Welch Blast FDA Labeling Rule for Maple Syrup

May 2, 2018
In The News

Vermont’s congressional delegation is pushing back against a rule proposed by the Food and Drug Administration that would require producers of pure maple syrup to put “added sugar” labels on their products.

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, both Democrats, joined maple syrup producers at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier Tuesday morning to push back against the proposed regulation.

The lawmakers say that the labels would misinform consumers and could harm the industry, which does not put additional sugar in its syrup.

The proposed labels would also be required on pure honey products.

“With honey and with maple it’s not added sugar, so it’s misleading,” Welch said in an interview after the event.

All food products in the U.S. would have to comply with stricter sugar labeling standards under the FDA’s proposal.

The rules would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and Jan. 1, 2021, for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales, according to Deborah Kotz, a department spokesperson.

Welch said that under the rule, consumers would be led to believe there’s added sugar in pure maple syrup “when in fact it’s just the natural product.”

Welch said he and Rep. Kevin Kramer, R-N.D., have drafted a letter to telling FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to “back off” on the proposed sugar labeling regulations for pure syrup and honey products. They are now seeking signatures from colleagues.

Leahy said he recently met with the FDA commissioner to bring up concerns over the proposal.

“We wanted to make sure he knew what was going on,” Leahy said. “I showed him that label and how confusing it is.”

Leahy and Welch both noted that they support added sugar labels on food items other than pure honey and maple syrup that actually have added sugar.

The FDA is not considering exempting pure maple syrup from its proposed sugar labeling rules, Kotz said.

According to a draft guidance of the rule, added sugars will “include sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such.”

But Kotz said under the rule, manufacturers of pure maple syrup and pure honey would have the discretion to put an obelisk symbol “immediately after the added sugars percent Daily Value information” on the label.

The obelisk symbol “would direct consumers to truthful and non-misleading statements on the package outside the Nutrition Facts label.”

Manufacturers could use statements to explain that no sugar or corn syrup was added to the pure honey or pure maple syrup.

Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, said Vermont maple producers worry that the labels will be bad for business.

“I think there is fear that some consumers would just put down a bottle of pure maple syrup,” Gordon said. “We’ve kind of made our name on pure Vermont maple — there’s nothing added to it.”

Gordon said that in 2012, the USDA estimated there were more than 1,500 maple syrup producers in the state, but he noted that some producers will say the number is closer to 2,500.

A 2016 study from the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies shows that in 2013, Vermont’s maple industry contributed between $317 million and $330 million in total sales to the state’s economy.