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The Controversy Over Maple Syrup


Maple syrup producers are furious, and they're letting the Food and Drug Administration know about it. The issue? A controversial regulation over how to label sugar on the bottles of the syrup. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins me now to talk about it. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Angry maple syrup producers.

AUBREY: That's right. They are upset because the FDA, under the new food labeling rules, which will be rolled out over the next couple of years, would require that all of this sugar I've brought in my maple syrup here, all...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can see it.

AUBREY: ...Of the sugar here be labeled as added sugar. And maple syrup producers are up in arms. They say this is unfair because, in fact, all the sugar in maple syrup is naturally occurring. It's intrinsic. I spoke to one producer in Vermont this morning. And he says, look. Maple syrup is 100 percent pure product. It's basically concentrated tree sap. I mean, think of it as tree juice. So to have a label that makes their product seem as if it's in the same category with imitation syrup - you know, the inexpensive ones you see on grocery store shelves that are mostly made from high-fructose corn syrup - they say is wrong. So they say it's completely confusing and not accurate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what is the FDA saying about this? What's their argument...

AUBREY: You know...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...For these new food labels?

AUBREY: Right. They're saying, look. Americans consume too much sugar, and excessive consumption is linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They say that they're trying to create labels and regulations to support the dietary recommendations to limit sugar to none more than 10 percent of your daily calories. And they say this is one thing that will help consumers be aware of how much sugar they're consuming.

Now, they have offered a bit of a compromise here. They would basically allow for a footnote to say something like - on the label here to say something like, all sugars naturally occurring. Now, this does not please the maple syrup producers because they're saying, look. People are going to be confused by it. It seems contradictory. On one hand, you're going to have over here the nutrition facts panel saying added sugars and then maybe somewhere else in the label, it says naturally occurring. People are just going to be confused.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is maple syrup any better for you than imitation maple syrups? I mean, they're both sort of sweeteners, right?

AUBREY: I would say there is a difference. Maple syrup, which is basically tree sap, has a lot of vitamins and minerals in it. And there have been a recent spate of studies from the University of Rhode Island pointing out that there are a bunch of plant compounds in maple syrup, some of which could have anti-inflammatory effects or other beneficial effects. And you won't find those in these imitation syrups that are made from highly refined sugars, you know? You want to limit sugar from all sources. But I would say if you're trying to cut back, you might as well choose the one that, you know, has micronutrients in it, and the taste of it is much richer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where does this go now? Are we going to see these new labels anytime soon?

AUBREY: Well, the public comment period on this proposal ended last week. Now, the FDA will review the comments, and the new nutrition facts panel labels will be rolling out over the next several years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thank you so much.

AUBREY: Thanks, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.