RICHMOND, Vt. — 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 they say 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 maple syrup is not listed on their labels. Quaker Oats said it did not have a comment, and a Hood spokeswoman said she was seeking more information but could not confirm if the ice cream’s flavor was derived from real maple syrup.
Roger Brown, chairman of the Maple Industry Committee of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, said maple syrup — derived from heating sap from maple trees — is a premium product and sweetener and for that reason a number of companies imply that a product contains maple without the ingredient being present. He said the association has asked the FDA to investigate so that consumers get what they’re looking for, and maple producers get compensated for their hard work.
“My main beef is put syrup in it if you’re going to call it syrup,” said Brown, an owner of Slopeside Syrup. “My secondary beef is if you’re going to call it a maple thing, put enough maple in it that it’s a maple product and that it’s not a corn syrup product that has some minuscule amount of syrup in it.”
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy said there’s no comparison between real and artificially flavored syrup.
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 consumers and hurts those producing 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 maple syrup, which in Vermont goes for an average retail price 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.