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Furious sugarmakers halt proposed FDA regulation

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Posted on June 28, 2018 |
By Nick Garber



VERMONT — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is backing down from a proposal that would have required producers of maple sugar and honey to label their products as containing “added sugars.” This followed vocal opposition from 20 members of Congress and over 3,000 concerned citizens who submitted public comments to the FDA.

The controversial plan had enraged sugarmakers across the country — and especially in Vermont, the nation’s biggest source of maple products. As part of the FDA’s quest to better inform consumers of their sugar intake, the agency used a definition of “added sugars” that would have included even sugars that arise naturally as food is processed.

But last week, the controversy appeared to end abruptly, as the FDA announced the outpouring of opposition would lead it to consider a “revised approach.”

Just how opposed were Vermonters? If the public comments viewable online are any indication, the answer is extremely.

Art Remick, who runs a computer assistance shop in Shoreham, was among the thousands of commenters.

“As a member of a Vermont family that has been producing 100 percent Pure Vermont Maple Syrup and 100 percent Pure Vermont Maple Sugar for over four generations, I am outraged that the FDA, or for that matter any government entity, would or could be so ignorant as to dream up this type of labeling idea, much less require it,” he wrote in a comment to the agency.

“To ask Vermont Maple producers to put anything on their product label that would insinuate that they were making anything other than 100 percent Pure Vermont Maple Syrup or Sugar is insulting to the Maple Producers and misleading to the people to whom they are selling their products.”

Blake Harrison, the orchard manager at Kent Ridge Orchards in Cornwall, couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“I cannot understand the logic behind using the word ‘added’ to products made from naturally occurring sugars that do not have sugar added to them,” he wrote. “That seems akin to putting the words ‘added water’ on a bottle of water.”

The plan’s dissenters weren’t limited to the maple industry. Kathleen Van De Weert, a dietician in Middlebury, registered her disagreement too.

“I help patients understand and read nutrition labels on a daily basis to inform their food choices for healthful eating,” she wrote. “Myself and other nutrition professionals teach consumers and clients to utilize the ingredients list to identify added sugar sources. The ingredients for honey and maple syrup are honey and maple syrup, respectively.”

The dispute even reached the halls of Congress: Rep. Peter Welch and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy — Vermont’s entire Congressional delegation — were among the 20 signatories on a June 8 letter to the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib, urging him to exempt maple and honey from an “added sugars” labeling.

Two weeks later, the agency seems to be relenting, and Vermonters are expressing their relief. Welch, Sanders and Leahy released a joint statement on Thursday, applauding the FDA’s likely surrender.

“We are glad that the FDA has decided to take into account the thousands of comments from producers, consumers and from us pointing out that an ‘added sugar’ label makes no sense for pure maple syrup,” the statement read.

If the FDA winds up dropping the plan definitively, credit will go not only to those three elected officials, but also to the thousands of furious commenters who took to the web to voice their opposition.

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