Maple, honey producers not sweet on added sugars label

EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. — Producers of pure maple syrup and honey aren't sweet on a plan to label their pure natural products as containing added sugars.

They say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's upcoming requirement to update nutrition labels to tell consumers that pure maple syrup and honey contain added sugars is misleading, illogical and confusing and could hurt their industries.

"There are no added sugars. Maple is a pure product," said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, the country's leading maple producing state.

Others from Vermont's congressional delegation joined Welch at a press conference Tuesday. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and a representative from Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' office were also there with some maple producers to discuss their plan to fight the FDA requirement.

Welch said that many consumers don't want added sugars, which makes them think of corn syrup or other un-natural elements.

"They want pure products," the Democrat said, "nothing more so than maple syrup."

Tom Morse, of Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier, notes that maple syrup comes right from trees and producers refine it to keep the quality high.

"It's 67 percent maple sugar and that's what it is, nothing more, nothing less," he said.

To address industry concerns, the FDA has suggested that producers could use a symbol after the added sugars daily value directing consumers to elsewhere on the label where they could say these sugars occur naturally.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said he has made nutrition one of his top priorities, and the Nutrition Facts label hasn't been meaningfully updated in decades.

"We've made it our goal to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in food products consistent with recent dietary guideline recommendations," he said in a statement released in March. "The new label also contains the new daily value for added sugars, so consumers can better understand how foods with added sugars can fit into a healthy dietary pattern."

Large manufacturers would have to comply by Jan. 1, 2020, and smaller manufacturers by Jan. 1, 2021, according to the FDA's proposal.

The label with the symbol is still confusing, producers say.

"It's clear that when applied broadly this is an example of well-intentioned federal regulation that is totally illogical when applied in this context," said Roger Brown of Slopestyle Maple in Richmond.

The American Honey Producers Association says it could lead to consumers wondering what's being added to pure honey, when nothing is. Both industries say they work hard to protect their pure products from adulteration.

"Honey is a pure sugar so there's no need for added sugars," said Chris Hiatt, the association's vice president. "So it's misleading the consumer."

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