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Maple syrup, honey may have to carry ‘added sugar’ label despite not containing added sugar

  • A proposed label for pure honey shows how the “added sugar” description would be handled – with a footnote. Courtesy FDA

  • Jeff Moore of Windswept Farms in Loudon shows the current nutrition facts label on the farm’s maple syrup containers. The FDA wants to change the labels to add levels of “added sugar,” even though sugar is not added to syrup. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Maple Syrup containers are seen at Windswept Farm in Loudon. The FDA wants to have maple syrup and honey nutrition labels list levels of “added sugar” because of the high natural sugar content of syrup. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, May 03, 2018

Maple syrup and honey made in New Hampshire may eventually carry nutrition labels saying they contain “added sugar,” with a footnote explaining that the sugar wasn’t actually added.

“The FDA is trying to do something good, but they’re going to confuse the consumer. They’re going to say ‘did you add white sugar or did you add corn syrup?’ We’ll say no, we didn’t do that – but it says on the label we did!” said David Kent, a maple producer in Jaffrey and a board member of the N.H. Maple Producer Association. “They’re trying to paint every product with the same size paint brush and the same color brush.”

At issue are changes to the Nutrition Facts labels attached to all processed foods, including maple syrup and honey either in 2020 or 2021, depending on the producer’s size.

In 2016, the Federal Food and Drug Administration began rolling out changes to the label “to reflect new scientific information” about links between diet and health, in particular with chronic problems like heart disease and diabetes. Driving the change was the amount of sugar being added to processed foods, including those that do not obviously contain sugar, such as ketchup.

The labels have long included the total amount of sugar in the product. As part of the change, the FDA says on its website: “Added sugars, in grams and as percent Daily Value, will be included on the label. Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.”

It appears that the percentage of natural sugar in maple syrup and honey is so high that it triggers an “added sugar” designation based on nutrition guidelines rather than the source of the sugar.

“That’s the term they’ve decided they’re going to use for this category, whether it’s added or not ... it’s just not the right descriptor. People will be unnecessarily confused,” said Gail McWilliam-Jellie, director of the state Division of Agricultural Development.

Agriculture officials throughout Northern New England had been complaining about the designation, seeking an exemption for single-ingredient products such as syrup and honey.

Instead, the FDA has proposed in draft guidelines that it will attach a footnote to the “added sugar” designation for honey and syrup, saying “all these sugars are naturally occurring.” The draft can be read online at FDA.gov.

Local producers fear this will do little to reassure consumers.

“There’s no added sugar in maple syrup. You might as well say there is added sugar in apples,” said Jim McFadden, a maple producer in North Woodstock and president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.

So why is the term “added” being used in syrup and honey for sugars that are produced naturally by maple trees or bees?

“When you consume this product, you are adding sugar to your diet – that’s how it was explained to me,” Kent said.

The proposal calls for any processor or producer selling more than $10 million annual to comply as of Jan. 1, 2020. It does not appear that any New Hampshire honey or syrup producer is that large, meaning they would have until Jan. 1, 2021 to comply.

Adding to confusion, the issue also covers certain cranberry products, such as juices and dried cranberry products, which do have added sugar but are so naturally tart that even so, their total amount of sugar is fairly low.

Cranberry producers argued this would mislead consumers because some competing products are made with fruits that are inherently sweet and have no need for added sugar – yet may still have more total sugar than cranberry products.

“Some stakeholders are concerned that consumers may think certain cranberry products are less nutritious than these competitor products because of the added sugars declaration,” said the FDA guidance. It allows a lengthy footnote saying: “Sugars added to improve the palatability of naturally tart cranberries. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that that there is room for limited amounts of Added Sugars in the diet, especially from nutrient dense food like naturally tart cranberries.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)