FDA drops ‘added sugar’ labels

By Kate Barcellos
Staff Writer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday they would not require the labels of 100-percent maple and honey products to include “contains added sugars” on their product labels.

“This is great news,” said Tom Morse, of the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks family of East Montpelier. “It made my day. It made no sense to me, no sense to anyone, the government stepping in to mess things up on a local level.”

Just after the 2018 sugaring season came to a close, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, spoke out against the regulation.

“We’re very thankful to our guys in Washington for helping us out with that,” Morse said. “We were all pretty upset about it, and they got it thrown right out the door.”

When the FDA proposed the “added sugar” label for those products, Attorney General T.J. Donovan invited Vermonters to submit comments to his office on the proposed amendments to the label.

Initially, public participation looked bleak — less than 300 people commented on “The Declaration of Added Sugar on Maple Syrup, Honey and Certain Cranberry Products,” online after the portal was launched in early March.

On June 4, Donovan rallied Vermonters during a news conference at a sugarbush in Richmond, calling on residents to fight for the purity of a product that is deeply ingrained in Vermont’s identity, and to urge the FDA to allow an exception to its regulation for single-ingredient products such as honey and maple syrup.

After the conference, 3,331 more comments were submitted to Donovan’s portal, with more than 1,280 of them coming from Vermont, and by the time the portal closed June 18, more than 3,500 comments had been submitted.

Ninety-eight percent of the voices heard were against the regulation.

“A lot of other people we know submitted comments,” said Jenna Baird, co-owner of the retail store at Baird Farm in North Chittenden, and the fourth generation to carry on her family’s century-old sugaring operation. “… To have to put that on your label doesn’t make any sense. It deceives the customer, and a lot of our customers come to our farm and want to make sure it’s a pure product, because there’s the fake syrup with high-fructose corn syrup in it.”

On June 19, the FDA announced that it “recognizes the complexity of this issue and is grateful for the feedback it has received, including more than 3,000 comments received during the comment period on the draft guidance that closed June 15. The agency plans to take these comments into consideration to swiftly formulate a revised approach that makes key information available to consumers in a workable way.”

On Sept. 6, victory was sweet. The FDA expressed gratitude to all who contributed their “guidance” through Donovan’s portal.

“This guidance will provide a path forward for pure, single-ingredient ‘packaged as such’ products that does not involve the standard ‘added sugars’ declaration on the Nutrition Facts label,” the FDA announced.

Which means single-ingredient products will keep single-ingredient labels and no added sugar.

“I think it’s an issue that shouldn’t have come up to begin with,” said Bob Hausslein, owner and operator of Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind based in Londonderry and Rutland. “Just based on Yankee common sense and science. We’re disheartened that the debate got as far as it did. It’s a sign of good intentions run amok in a bureaucracy.”

To be born and raised in the Green Mountain State means to have a heart-felt connection to the sweet sap that flows through the forests, according to locals.

“It’s our No. 1 in agriculture, and more than 90 percent of the industry is still mom-and-pop,” said Laura Goodrich, general manager of the Vermont Maple Museum in Pittsford. “It’s still the little guys. Quebec is No. 1 globally, but we rank right up there with them — little old Vermont.”

Morse said the market is only increasing for maple syrup, and he’s proud to carry on a tradition whose sweet results will remain untouched by federal regulations.

“We’ve been making syrup for eight generations,” Morse said. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t sugaring. It’s in our blood”