Led by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association (VMSMA), the maple syrup industry has penned a February 15, 2016, letter asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take enforcement action “concerning misrepresentative labeling of food products whose labels incorrectly indicate the presence of maple syrup.” The signatories—which include the International Maple Syrup Institute and North American Maple Syrup Council, as well as several state organizations—identify several instant oatmeal, natural sweetener and other products that allegedly violate Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act regulations by using the word “maple” in their product descriptions without containing maple syrup.

Drawing parallels to the agency’s conclusion that Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo® eggless sandwich spread was mislabeled because “mayo” has “long been used and understood as shorthand or slang for mayonnaise,” the letter argues that the term “maple” “has long been used and understood to refer to ‘maple syrup.’” As VMSMA opines, “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. Further, it deceives consumers into believing they are purchasing a premium product when, in fact, they have a product of substantially lower quality.”

The letter seeks an end to “rampant mislabeling” by prohibiting the use of maple branding on products that do not contain any maple syrup, defined in 21 CFR § 168.140(a) as “substance derived from the heat treatment of sap from the maple tree. Such maple branding may include “vignettes of maple syrup, leaves, and trees” that emphasize the presence of maple syrup.

“As maple syrup purveyors or producers, or parties otherwise invested in a healthy maple syrup marketplace, we have a particular interest in ensuring that products claiming to contain maple are properly labeled to prevent consumer confusion,” concludes the letter, which reportedly drew support from U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “We hope that many companies marketing misbranded products will consider including maple syrup in their products in order to comply with the law, however if they do not, we request enforcement action by the FDA.” See The Associated Press, February 16, 2016.

 

Issue 594

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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