'Added Sugar' Label And Canadian Tariff Both Weigh On Vt. Maple Sugar Makers

Jun 8, 2018

Two issues of concern have cropped up recently for Vermont's maple sugar producers.

First, there's the pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement that all maple sugar products produced in Vermont contain the label "added sugar," as part of what the FDA says is an effort to make people more aware of the sugar they consume.

And then there's also the tariff that the Canadian government has recently slapped on a number of products, including maple sugar, in retaliation for President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada.

VPR spoke to two people in the state's maple industry to comment on these issues:

Excerpts from the interview are below. Listen above to the extended conversation.

FDA's Proposed "Added Sugar" Label

The concerns raised by the proposed label:  

Brown: "You could have a product that says 'no added sugar' on the front, legally, and then on the back has a required statement that says 'includes 20 grams of added sugar.'

Voyer: "The concern obviously amongst our sugar makers is that it can really hurt the market for maple just by confusing the consumers into thinking that there's sugar added to a product that has no sugar added to it — it's just 100 percent pure maple syrup. ...

"The deadline for the public comment period is June 15, so there's time for any concerned consumer to make that public comment. It looks as though the labeling is supposed to go into effect, I think it's 2020 for companies that make more than $10 million in sales and 2021 for companies that make less than that. [Editor's note: Yes, that's correct.] So it sounds like it's far out but we're actually under a tight deadline to get our voices heard and effect some change."

Brown: "Honestly the hardest part in talking about this issue so far has been that people don't understand it. ... Even the baseline understanding of the issue is confusing. And then beyond that, you know, maple is a premium product because it's unadulterated. And to suggest that it's adulterated in labeling required by the FDA, I think really could do some damage. And then there's real concern."

What actions Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan's office has taken:

Voyer: "They've been great from the beginning about engaging with us. They reached out to us to lend their support. What he had done through his office was draft a letter directly to the FDA to state what their feelings were on this. They also created a portal for Vermonters to access ... so that people can make that public comment.

"I believe he has also reached out directly to the FDA to invite them to come and hear the issue directly in Vermont from Vermonters because we do produce 40 percent of the nation's syrup here in Vermont — it creates a tremendous economic impact for our local economy. So it would be important for them to hear from us directly."

Canadian Tariff On Maple Sugar

Reaction to the maple sugar tariffs imposed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in response to Trump's aluminum and steel tariffs:  

Voyer: "There's certainly a concern. Canada produces the majority, the bulk, of the world's syrup, thusly we don't need to import a lot of maple into Canada. We certainly do import some — maybe in the realm of 20 to 25 truckloads of syrup from Vermont goes into Canada each year. But the real issue would be if then in retribution, we impose tariffs on them — because we import quite a bit of Canadian syrup."

Brown: "My feeling is that this is just a classic example of why cross-border trade is important. There are a number of major packinghouses in the United States — many, most of them are Vermont frankly — who buy a lot of syrup in Canada, pack it and then resell it in the United States.

"You have Leader Evaporator in Swanton is the major American manufacturer of maple equipment. They buy Canadian stainless steel. ... You have Canadian manufacturing companies of equipment that import American stainless steel.

"Production in Vermont has doubled in the last 10 years, markets are growing at greater than 10 percent, prices have been relatively stable — so this is just a story of an industry that is working well on both sides of the border and to throw a wrench into that I think is, that's the concern."

Listen to the conversation with Voyer and Brown at the top of the post.