Maple syrup producers protest 'misbranding' of products with no maple

Canadian and American maple syrup producers want protection against what they call deceptive products that claim to contain maple.

Industry groups ask U.S. regulator to investigate

Real maple syrup is graded according to how much light passes through it, as well as its flavour and clarity. (Matthew Mead/Associated Press)

Canadian and American maple syrup producers want protection against what they call deceptive products that claim to contain maple.

Last week, the North American Maple Syrup Council, the International Maple Syrup Institute and industry groups from several states sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration protesting food labelled 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 Tuesday evening that she was seeking more information but could not confirm if the ice cream's flavor was derived from real maple syrup.

A 'premium' product

Roger Brown, chairman of the Maple Industry Committee of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, said maple — 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."

In Canada, where it is estimated 80 per cent of the world's maple syrup is produced, maple products are strictly regulated. Under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, all maple products "shall consist entirely of the product obtained directly or indirectly from maple sap."

The Quebec Maple Syrup Producers stop short of naming names but do call out the fakers.

"Leading pancake syrups contain zero pure maple syrup and rely on high fructose corn syrup as the primary sweetening ingredient, along with additives like artificial flavourings and colouring agents," the group says on their website.

"Sometimes imitation syrups list maple syrup as an ingredient when it only contains as little as 5 per cent."

Many products 'misbranded'

In their letter to the FDA the industry groups gave nine examples of products they say are mislabelled –- and they say there are many others.

The misbranding deceives consumers and hurts those producing real maple syrup, they said.

"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."

The FDA said it is reviewing the letter and will respond directly to the petitioners.

A new grading system for maple syrup goes into effect in 2017 after the Stephen Harper government moved to harmonize Canadian and American standards.

With files from The Associated Press