FDA walks back 'added sugar' labeling for maple syrup

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Vermont maple syrup makers concerned over proposed changes to nutrition labels have received positive news from the FDA, according to Attorney General TJ Donovan.

A rule change proposed by the federal Food and Drug Administration would have required "added sugar" claims to nutrition labels for pure maple syrup bottles — even though producers do not use additional sweeteners.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement Thursday that the final rules, which will be released early next year, will "provide a path forward" for exempting products like maple syrup from the "standard 'added sugars' declaration."

After receiving thousands of public comments, the FDA recognized that the proposed requirement "may inadvertently lead consumers to think their pure products, such as a jar of honey or maple syrup, may actually contain added table sugar or corn syrup."

Donovan hailed the news as "a victory for common sense and democracy."

"I want to thank the hundreds of Vermonters who stood up for 100 percent pure maple products. Your voice made a difference," he said in a statement Friday.

Vermont is the nation's largest producer of maple syrup and industry members were concerned that the labeling requirement would scare off consumers.

Roger Brown, co-owner of Richmond-based Slopeside Syrup, said that labeling naturally occurring sugars as "added" "sort of defies the normal interpretation of the English language."

"We just don't want people to think there's sugar added to maple syrup."

"From a maple point of view," Brown added, "people would have picked up a bottle of maple syrup at $20 a quart, and they would have picked up Aunt Jemima at $1.99 a quart, and said, 'well, these both have added sugar. I thought maple syrup was pure, and that's why I was going to buy it."

He added that "on a broader level, confusing labeling hurts everyone."

"It hurts the whole nutritional cause," Brown said.

The federal administration received over 3,000 public comments largely opposing the rule change in a comment period that ended mid-June. The AG's office set up an online portal for Vermonters to provide input to the FDA to make a "process that's normally pretty opaque easy for people to access," said Christopher Curtis, head of the AG's public protection division.

Ninety-eight percent of comments the FDA received opposed this change, with the majority coming from Vermonters, according to a report from the AG's office.

Curtis said the proposed labeling requirements had the "potential to confuse consumers by making them think that somehow there was adulteration of the product." He added that the rule change would have conflicted with a requirement in

Vermont law that nothing be added to maple products.

Nutritional labels for products like maple syrup currently must list "total sugars." The FDA hoped that distinguishing between naturally occurring sugars, like those in fruit and vegetables, and added sugars would help consumers make healthier choices, according to their press release.

Under the new rules, nutritional labels will have to provide a "percent daily value" for honey and maple syrup — something not presently mandated. The FDA is "not considering changes to the required percent daily value for these products," according to Thursday's press release.

The new rules will 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. Deborah Kotz, FDA spokesperson, did not return a request for comment Friday.

Brown said that Gottlieb's announcement represents "a commitment that he is going to solve this problem" and that the FDA had listened to the public's concerns. Brown was cautious to express too much optimism, however. "Let's see what this final rule looks like."

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