November 14, 2018
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For Maine’s honey, maple producers, FDA’s label decision is sweet to hear

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
In this March 9, 2016, file photo, a bottle of maple syrup are displayed at the Merrifield Farm and Sugar Shack in Gorham, Maine. The FDA announced this week it has backed off from requiring maple and honey producers from listing "added sugar" as an ingredient on packaging.

Maine’s maple and honey producers received some sweet news this week when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it was backing off from a move that would have required the all-natural products to list “added sugar” as an ingredient on their labels.

On Thursday the FDA released a statement confirming that when the new labeling guidelines about the added sugars are released next year, pure maple syrup and honey producers will be exempt.

“This is good news,” Richard McLaughlin, master beekeeper and president of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, said Friday morning. “There was a lot of concern expressed by our beekeepers that [added sugar] on the labels would mislead consumers.”

Pure maple and honey are sweet due to the presence of naturally occurring fructose and glucose sugars, nothing else added in.

The proposed label requirements were part of an FDA campaign aimed at educating consumers about excess sugar in their diets.

In the case of pure maple syrups and honey, “added sugar” would have meant how much sweetener — albeit naturally occurring — a single serving contains above the FDA recommended daily sugar allowance.

Last February the FDA released a draft of the proposed new guidelines and invited public comment.

“The more than 3,000 comments we received on the draft guidance indicate that there are further opportunities to update our proposed approach,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a released statement Thursday. “We recognized that this new [proposed] labeling information may inadvertently lead consumers to think their pure products, such as a jar of honey or maple syrup, may actually contain added sugar or corn syrup because there are ‘added sugars’ listed on the label.”

FDA guidelines recommends no more than 10 percent of a person’s daily calories come from added sugars — about 12.5 teaspoons — based in a 2,000-calorie a day diet.

Moving forward, Gottlieb said while the natural products of pure maple and honey will be exempt from putting “added sugars” on their labels, the new FDA guidelines will not change the daily sugar recommendations, including natural sugars found in pure maple syrups and honey.

“We believe that such a solution strikes the balance of addressing producer concerns that their products could be perceived as being economically adulterated while still informing consumers on how these products contribute to their daily added sugar intake,” Gottlieb said.

Maine is the third largest producer of pure maple syrup in the country, with 539,000 gallons coming out of the state’s sugar bushes in 2018.

“They certainly worked with the maple and honey producers,” said Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. “We are really glad they took time to listen to us and iron this out.”

Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation also advocated on behalf of the producers and this week were unanimous in their support of the FDA’s decision.

“Numerous Maine maple syrup and honey producers told me how this rule would have harmed their family-owned businesses,” Sen. Susan Collins Republican said in a statement Friday. “I am delighted that, following my advocacy, the FDA announced that it will now pursue an alternative approach that will address producers’ concerns, accurately inform consumers, and help protect jobs.”

During Senate negotiations of the Farm Bill this past spring, Collins proposed added language to prohibit the FDA from going ahead with the “added sugar” requirement.

“There is only one word to describe today’s announcement — sweet,” Sen. Angus King, Independent, said in a release Thursday. “This is a welcome result for Maine honey and maple producers [and] for consumers who will be saved from extra confusion as they shop for pure, natural products.”

In June King spoke on the Senate floor against the labeling proposal.

“The FDA seems to be headed in the right direction on its updated nutrition labels for pure maple syrup and honey,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Democrat. “From what Dr. Gottlieb said, I think the [FDA] has gotten the message that its proposal would have caused confusion for consumers and hurt producers.”

Merrifield and McLaughlin agreed had the added sugar requirement been left in, it would have done great harm to Maine’s natural sweetener industries.

“It could have really hurt,” Merrifield said. “Especially as we try to bring in new consumers, it would have given the impression we are adding something to our naturally made products.”

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