Maple syrup groups seek action on questionable food labels
MONTPELIER >> In the maple-rich areas of New England and the upper Midwest, producers don't approve of fakers.
Last week, industry groups from Vermont to Michigan sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration protesting food labeled as maple that doesn't contain the real thing.
They say products such as Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal and Hood maple walnut ice cream are misbranded, in violation of FDA regulations, because they don't contain maple syrup, derived from heating sap from maple trees. Neither Quaker Oats nor Hood immediately responded to phone calls seeking comment.
The maple producers want the FDA to take enforcement action to either remove the maple branding from the products or have the companies add maple syrup to them.
The letter from maple syrup producer groups in Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin, as well as the International Maple Syrup Institute and the North American Maple Syrup Council, said the misbranding deceives the consumer and hurts those using real maple syrup.
"This unchecked misbranding has an adverse impact on manufacturers of products containing real maple syrup, as it allows cheaper products not containing premium ingredients to compete with those actually containing maple syrup," the letter said. "Further, it deceives consumers into believing they are purchasing a premium product when, in fact, they have a product of substantially lower quality."
They gave nine examples of products that they say are mislabeled and say there are many others.
The FDA said it is reviewing the letter and will respond directly to the petitioners.
Producers are fiercely protective of the sweet stuff, which in Vermont goes for an average of about $49 a gallon.
In 2010, they raised concerns about Log Cabin All Natural Syrup, an imitation maple syrup being sold in the same beige plastic jugs used by many producers in Vermont — the country's largest producer of maple syrup.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont and the state's agricultural secretary asked the FDA to investigate whether the brand violated federal guidelines by marketing itself as a "natural" product, noting that it contained a caramel color, xanthan gum — a natural thickener — and 4 percent maple.
In response, the makers of the product, Pinnacle Foods, agreed to take the caramel coloring out of the product, although it said its product was in full compliance with FDA regulations. That wasn't enough for Vermont officials who said the jug and the "all-natural" labeling were deceiving.
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