FDA to seek a 'sensible solution' to labeling sugars on pure honey, maple syrup products

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Metkalova
© Getty Images / Metkalova
Following a strong backlash from consumers and industry on a proposal to label sugars on the label of a jar of honey or pure maple syrup as 'added sugars', the US FDA has announced it will “swiftly formulate a revised approach”.

In draft guidance​ issued in February​, the FDA said that honey and maple syrup were both classified as added sugar as they are used to add sweetness to foods.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 on these single ingredient products, 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 response, FDA received over 3,000 almost universally negative​ comments on the regulations.gov site​, prompting the agency to go back to the drawing board.

“FDA recognizes the complexity of this issue and is grateful for the feedback it has received,” ​stated the agency in a constituent update​ yesterday. “The agency plans to take these comments into consideration to swiftly formulate a revised approach that makes key information available to consumers in a workable way.”

A sensible solution

“The feedback that FDA has received is that the approach laid out in the draft guidance does not provide the clarity that the FDA intended,”​ stated the FDA.

“It is important to FDA that consumers are able to effectively use the new Nutrition Facts label to make informed, healthy dietary choices. The agency looks forward to working with stakeholders to devise a sensible solution."

The Maple Guild​, the largest single-source maple syrup producer in the world, and owner of 16,000 acres of sugar bush in Northeast Vermont, told FoodNavigator-USA it was pleased that the FDA had listened.

John Campbell, VP of marketing, added: “I'm proud of the FDA for listening to the feedback and to common sense."

Where maple syrup is a standalone product, and not being added to something to sweeten it, its sugar content should simply be listed under 'total sugar,' not added sugar, on the new-look Nutrition Facts label, he said: "I don't think we need to overthink this.

"Maple syrup is a naturally-occurring sugar that does not include any additives – and certainly no added sugar. We look forward to continuing to produce high-quality, low-glycemic, and organic products for all those who utilize maple syrup as their natural sweetener, and hope that the FDA continues to hear out our industry as they make their decision.”


Cranberries © Getty Images gaus-nataliya
© Getty Images / gaus-nataliya

The draft guidance also considered the case of cranberries, which are often sweetened for palatability.

In this instance, the FDA proposed an accompanying note that 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.’

Far fewer comments were received about cranberries, but 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.

In a recent post​ on her blog Food Politics​, Dr Marion Nestle - Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University said it was not entirely clear why the "FDA is making an exception for cranberries", ​and added: "Chalk this as a win for cranberry lobbyists."

In the new FDA constituent update, the agency stated: “The draft guidance also considered labeling of added sugars for certain cranberry products. The agency looks forward to reviewing the comments received on these products as well.”

Read all of the comments HERE​.  

To read the full constituent update, please click HERE​.

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