In draft guidance issued in February, the FDA said that honey and maple syrup were both classified as added sugar as they are used to add sweetness to foods. But it acknowledged that categorizing jars of single ingredient pure honey and pure maple syrup as 'added sugar' under the new-look Nutrition Facts panel might be confusing.
To address these concerns, it proposed that manufacturers use a ‘†’ symbol immediately after the added sugars daily value, directing consumers to a statement on pack “that provides truthful and not misleading contextual information about ‘added sugars’ and what it means for each of these specific products.”
In the case of pure honey, for example, the accompanying note might say: ‘All these sugars are naturally occurring in honey…'
In the case of cranberries, which are often sweetened for palatability, said the FDA, an accompanying note might read: ‘Sugars added to improve the palatability of naturally tart cranberries. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that that there is room for limited amounts of added sugars in the diet, especially from nutrient dense food like naturally tart cranberries.’
The voluntary footnote will only increase confusion
However, reactions to these proposals have been almost universally negative on the regulations.gov site as the June 15 deadline for submitting comments approaches, with the vast majority of stakeholders claiming that listing the sugar in a jar of honey or pure maple syrup as ‘added’ (even if there’s a statement of clarification nearby) incorrectly implies that table sugar or other sugars have been added.
The North American Maple Syrup Council explained: “We feel that the suggested voluntary footnote to the label will only increase confusion, rather than lessen it… Any implication on the nutrition label that suggests that the product contains anything other than pure maple syrup would mislead consumers and could have a potentially devastating impact on our industry.”
'This is absolutely ridiculous'
Katherine Ham was more forthright, telling the FDA: “This is absolutely ridiculous! Honey and maple syrup are pure, naturally occurring sugars with nothing added… Added sugar labels should be reserved for products that contain added sugar, sugar that does not occur naturally in the product and has been added.
“If your goal is to warn consumers about the high sugar content, maybe the labels should simply be required to say ‘high sugar content’ or a similar warning that does not mislead the consumer.”
Doug Allgood commented: “I realize that honey is added to foods in preparation or manufacturing and in that case it is clearly an added sugar in those foods and would therefore be labeled as Added Sugars on the Nutrition Facts label. However, pure honey, itself, does not contain added sugars.”
'You're kidding, right?'
Jeff Downing added: “There are no added sugars in maple syrup or honey. Saying so will cause more confusion. Why not make apple growers put this labeling on their apples? They contain sugars! This makes just as much sense.”
David Jordan kept his comment short and sweet: “You're kidding, right?”
Georgia Marion - a lone voice in the wilderness - said she was happy with the FDA's compromise: "This draft guidance is expected to educate people of what amounts of harmful sugars they are putting into their body when they eat these certain foods."
However, an anonymous commentator said there must be other ways to let shoppers know maple syrup and honey are sugary: "Regardless of whatever twisted logic the FDA uses to define the term 'Added Sugar' as content on a container of pure honey or maple syrup, as a layman/common consumer, I would wrongly interpret that term to imply that some sweetener (corn syrup?) was added to the syrup or honey during processing.
"If the FDA is trying to inform consumers that pure honey or maple syrup is all or mostly sugar (duh!), then perhaps some other less confusing terminology or statement might better achieve that purpose?"
Susan Czerepak added: "If pure maple syrup products are required to have an Added sugar label it will be false advertising and confuse Joe Consumer. Are you also going to require a bag of sugar to display and Added sugar label?"
While there were far fewer comments about cranberries, some stakeholders queried why cranberries should get special treatment, given that other healthy products to which manufacturers routinely add sugar for taste don’t get a pass.
“Ocean Spray already makes plenty of money,” said Ruthann Adamsky. “I scarcely think they need your help to sell more cranberries.”
Dr Marion Nestle - Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University - has not (yet) issued public comments on the draft guidance, but said in a recent post on her blog Food Politics that she was not entirely clear why the "FDA is making an exception for cranberries" adding: "Chalk this as a win for cranberry lobbyists."
Attorney: It's a compromise
Keri Borders, partner at law firm Mayer Brown, said she could see why stakeholders were frustrated, but said that legally FDA was in something of a bind, given that honey and maple syrup both meet its definition of added sugars when they're used in food products, so it would be inconsistent not to list them as such in standalone products (eg. a jar of honey).
By allowing manufacturers to add some words of clarification on single ingredient maple syrup or honey products, the FDA was giving firms the chance to clear up any confusion the added sugars designation might cause, she said.
"The FDA's goal is making sure food labels are truthful and not misleading, and by allowing firms to add a statement explaining that the sugar is naturally occurring, it would say that it's not requiring manufacturers to say something misleading."
That said, it was entirely possible that firms might mount a legal challenge if the draft guidance is finalized, she said.
“While honey and maple syrup meet the definition of added sugars, we heard concerns from industry that declaring added sugars on their single ingredient products may lead consumers to think their pure products – such as a jar of honey or maple syrup – actually contain added table sugar because added sugars are listed on the Nutrition Facts label. We also heard from cranberry juice manufacturers that their products need to be sweetened for palatability ...”
FDA commissioner Dr Gottlieb (click HERE to read more).