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Maple Syrup Industry Asks FDA To Act Against Fake Maple Labels

Boiled maple
WAMC/Pat Bradley
Maple syrup after boiling

Maple industry groups have sent a letter to the Food And Drug Administration asking it to take enforcement action against food companies that label items “maple” when they don’t actually contain maple.
There’s maple…..and then there’s maple.

If you’re buying food that says maple on the label, but maple is not listed in the ingredients, Matt Gordon says you’re not getting the real thing.   “Our letter to the FDA mostly called out Quaker Oats Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal. They have several variations. There’s a product called Oat Revolution that is also an oatmeal. There’s some Agave products on the market that are labeled as maple that do not contain any maple syrup. And Hood ice cream – maple walnut ice cream.”

Gordon is the Executive Director of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers’ Association.  The use of artificial maple has been an issue for some time.  In the past, maple producers successfully challenged simulated syrups.   Gordon says they are now targeting other types of foods.   “What we’re looking at here really is oatmeals, ice creams, yoghurts, cookies, etc. These products that are putting maple very prominently on their labeling oftentimes including imagery that is really evocative of maple syrup.  A picture of something that looks like maple syrup.  It talks about the flavoring, the heritage.  It’s these products that we’re really chiefly trying to point out and hopefully have the FDA take some actions against.”

The Vermont Sugarmakers Association can’t quantify the impact on the industry because it depends on how much real maple might go into the mimicked products, but it could be a sizeable quantity.

The Association, the International Maple Syrup Institute and the North American Maple Syrup Council are asking the FDA to take action against businesses using so-called fake maple in products.   “We’re hoping that they take action through the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act because there are regulations that really stress the characterizing ingredient in this and in many cases maple is the characterizing ingredient within a product like these.  Ultimately it would be great if they put maple in their product. So it’s kind of a combination.  We hope they put maple in or we hope they at least label their products accordingly and in a way that isn’t deceptive to the average consumer.”

While the Vermont group is taking the lead, the concerns expressed to the FDA spread across international borders.  The International Maple Syrup Institute is based in Ontario.  Executive Director Dave Chapeskie says they signed on to the letter to the FDA because misleading labeling is a widespread problem across the U.S. and Canada.   “We believe as an industry representing maple producers in North America that it should be made very clear on the principle label and on the ingredient listing that what is in the product if it’s not real maple then it should indicate that on the principle label.  And that certainly at minimum we would want to insure that the packers of these products are in compliance with federal and state and provincial regulations.”

Chapeskie explains that while the groups are currently requesting action by the U.S. FDA, they also want action in Canada.   “What we would like to see is the federal governments in both Canada and the United States insure that their relevant maple regulations protect the use of the words maple syrup, make it clear that a product either contains real maple or it doesn’t.  And for those provinces and states that have maple regulations, if they haven’t already got regulations that address this that they work to amend their existing regulations so we’ve got a fuller protection.”

The FDA said it’s reviewing the letter sent last week and will respond directly to the petitioners.

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