Senator joins fight against maple syrup fakers

Nancy Greene Raine is pouring it on to keep the integrity of one of Canada's best known, and sweetest, symbols from going downhill.

Nancy Greene Raine tables motion calling for regulations to protect integrity of maple syrup

Nancy Greene Raine is pouring it on to keep the integrity of one of Canada's best-known, and sweetest, symbols from going downhill.

The senator from British Columbia tabled a motion in the Senate on Tuesday calling for regulations to make it easier for Canadians to have confidence their pancakes are getting the real maple syrup they deserve.

"You'll be able to know what it tastes like before you buy it," Greene Raine, a former champion skier, told the host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, Robyn Bresnahan.

Senator Nancy Greene Raine, seen at a news conference promoting the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010, has put proposed new regulations governing Canadian maple syrup on the table in the Senate. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It all boils down to this: cheaper syrup knockoffs, sometimes labelled "maple-flavoured" or pancake syrups, can confuse consumers, skimming off sales for North American producers of real maple syrup.

"I've heard in France, they import maple syrup from Quebec, and then they dilute it with sugar-flavoured water to make more money obviously, and pass it off as maple syrup. That's something that the industry wants to protect," Greene Raine explained.

Although she doesn't represent a part of Canada where tapping sugar maples is a sweet sign of spring, the senator sympathizes with those who want to prevent imposters from tapping into the maple market, sending profits on a downward slide.

"I saw what happened with ice wine … in British Columbia," Greene Raine said. "The tourists were loving it and taking it home and a market developed in Asia. So they started exporting to Asia and within a few years you could buy ice wine knockoffs. They were just blatant."

Motion proposes new labelling rules, classes of syrup

The senator's motion calls for the province, state and country of origin to be clearly identified on the label.

The proposed regulations stem from the recommendations of the maple syrup producers themselves, who want the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to enforce a consistent definition of maple syrup.

If the regulations were adopted, all pure maple syrup sold by Canadian retailers would be labelled "Grade A maple syrup." Four defined classes of syrup would describe the colour and taste of distinct varieties of the sticky treat, from light to amber to dark, making it easier for consumers to find their favourites in the forest of options in the grocery aisle. 

Products that don't meet the new standards would be removed from stores.

"It's protecting the reputation and also being poised to start to promote it as a really healthy sweetener," the senator said, citing the health benefits of maple syrup noted in recent research, in comparison with other sweeteners.

While Canadians, particularly in syrup-producing provinces like Ontario and Quebec, are familiar with the taste of the real thing, maple syrup virgins from beyond these borders may not know what they're missing when they pour a breakfast topping that doesn't come from trees.

As the industry turns its attention toward sharing Canada's sticky goodness with the rest of the world, setting some rules to preserve the product's integrity becomes economically significant.

"There [are] big surpluses in Quebec," Greene Raine said, identifying the export potential for real maple syrup products.

Canadian producers also want labelling and quality standards in common with their competitors in the eastern United States.

Additional American regulations under consideration could lead to criminal fraud charges in the U.S. for those trying to pass off something short of a pure maple product as the real thing.

But Greene Raine doesn't think we need to go as far as calling in the Mounties to play syrup police.

"Canadians know that pure maple syrup is very special and they should expect to pay more for it than anything else," Greene Raine.