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Maple, honey producers sour on proposed federal ‘added sugar’ label

  • Grades of maple syrup produced at Dana Goodfield’s Bardwells Ferry Road sugar house. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Tim Herzig bottles maple syrup at Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield Saturday, February 26, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • A waffle with blueberries, maple syrup and maple ice cream at South Face Farm restaurant in Ashfield. Recorder file photo



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Is the Food and Drug Administration adulterating its own “Nutrition Facts” label?

That’s the criticism of maple and honey producers, who would be forced to identify maple syrup or honey as containing “Added Sugar” under proposed federal food labeling rules.

As part of a campaign to educate consumers about how much sugar they’re consuming in products, the federal agency wants to include the “added sugar” description on maple syrup and honey as part of a Declaration of Added Sugars guidance for honey, maple syrup and certain cranberry products. The agency is accepting comments on the idea through June 15.

“The symbol would lead the reader to truthful and non-misleading statements outside the Nutrition Facts label to provide additional information regarding the added sugars present in particular foods,” states the formal federal notice.

But that’s not how producers of the products see it — or local consumers, for that matter.

“It’s a little absurd that a product that’s essentially sugar has to have an additional line that says added sugar on it,” said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association and the state’s delegate to the North American Maple Syrup Council.

The council has written to the FDA, “Any implication on the nutrition label that suggests that the product contains anything other than pure maple syrup would mislead consumers and could have a potentially devastating impact on our industry. We propose an exemption for single-ingredient, pure maple products from the Added Sugar line requirement.”

The FDA is striving for uniformity, explains Pitcoff, and it makes some sense to note if sugar is added to a frozen dinner, for example. But when it comes to maple syrup, “I don’t think it makes sense. The info labels already have a line that says this is how much sugar you’re getting when you eat this. But having a line says ‘added sugar’ suggests there’s some sort of adulteration going on with a product that essentially IS sugar.”

Pitcoff adds, “That’s what we’ve been working on for decades in the maple industry, to drive home that this is a pure, natural product. The perception this puts out there really jeopardizes everything we’ve been working on.”

The FDA is considering an optional footnote that this product contains naturally occurring sugars, but this would be even more confusing if some producers decide to include it and others don’t, Pitcoff said.

“We want people to understand that pure maple syrup is pure maple syrup,” said Pitcoff, who said a mystifying “added sugar” label “would have to be on a 5-pound bag of sugar as well, which is also absurd.”

Bees

Dan Conlon of Deerfield, former president of the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, said the National Honey Board has also weighed in against the proposal, “and we all think it’s just crazy.

“I look on this as one of those dumbing-it-down things, and it’s really going to be undermining, in some ways,” he said.

“One of the things as a beekeeper that people are always suspicious of is that you’re adding sugar to your honey. So adulterated honey is the worst thing you can be doing. I can’t tell you how many times a year I have to say to people, ‘No we’re not adding anything to the honey.’ But as soon as we put that on the label, it will look like we’re adding sugar. … It sort of goes without saying that it’s got sugar in it.”

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