WASHINGTON—The food and drug administration this week told the industry it will not be enforcing any mislabeling of fake maple products.
"...under FDA's regulations, the term "maple" is not synonymous with "maple syrup." Such a reading would require, among other things, evidence that consumers perceive the terms to be synonymous and a change in FDA's regulations," wrote Felicia B. Billingslea Director Food Labeling and Standards Staff for the FDA in a letter to Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.
Gordon was part of a contingent of industry representatives that requested the FDA to enforce labeling laws. The group also met with the agency this spring in Washington.
“We’re disappointed to hear that the FDA is not taking enforcement action against any of the numerous products which purport to have maple syrup in them through their use of the word MAPLE and related iconography that calls to mind pure maple syrup," Gordon told The Maple News. "We could not disagree more with them that the public does not perceive MAPLE to mean that a food product contains some measurable quantity of maple syrup to flavor or sweeten the product. In the coming year we expect to continue to work with our partners throughout the North American maple industry as well as our Congressional delegation to challenge the FDA on their reading of the public’s perception of the word MAPLE on food products.”
In March, more than 30 different congress members from various maple-producing states signed onto a letter urging FDA to enforce labeling laws against big food giants like Pepsi-owned Quaker Oats, which has been putting products like its "maple" oatmeal on store shelves without a trace of maple syrup in it.
"Product after product is cited that tout "maple" boldly on the front of the package, along with iconic images of maple sugaring, but show no maple at all on the ingredients list," the bipartisan letter said. "These practices seem to intentionally mislead consumers who get cheap, industrially produced sweeteners and artificial flavors rather than the pure and genuine natural product they believe they have purchased.
"At the same time, sugar makers lose markets and income while the premium reputation of genuine maple syrup is damaged as consumers become used to inferior imitations," the congressional letter said. "We support a strong and thorough investigation into the misrepresentative labeling of food products whose labels incorrectly indicate the presence of maple syrup."
But the FDA said in its letter to Gordon this week that under FDA's flavor labeling regulations, if none of the natural flavor used in the food is derived from the product whose flavor is simulated, the food in which the flavor is used must be labeled either with the flavor of the product from which the flavor is derived or as "artificially flavored."
"If maple flavor is derived from maple sources other than maple syrup, we would not object to that product being represented as containing natural maple flavor," the FDA said.
Updated August 2016 to add FDA letter