UPDATE: September 6, 2018: Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday that new guidance exempting pure maple syrup and honey products from being considered as an "added sugar" on a label will be released in early 2019. Gottlieb said the guidance addresses "producer concerns that their products could be perceived as being economically adulterated.''
The Food and Drug Administration announced it will revise its proposal to require manufacturers of honey and maple syrup to list "added sugars" on the updated Nutrition Facts panel. The shift came after the agency reviewed more than 3,000 comments about the draft guidance after the comment period closed on June 15.
Most of the comments criticized the plan and indicated the requirement would lead consumers to believe that table sugar or other sweeteners had been added to honey and maple syrup products — even when they had not.
Although the FDA has also proposed labeling added sugars on certain dried cranberry products and cranberry juice products sweetened with added sugars, the agency is now saying that it "looks forward to reviewing the comments received on these products as well."
In a June 19 constituent update, FDA said the feedback it had received on the draft guidance was that the approach doesn't provide the clarity the agency intended.
"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 agency said.
Honey and maple syrup producers were quick to praise FDA for taking another look at the draft guidance.
"I'm proud of the FDA for listening to the feedback and to common sense," John Campbell, vice-president of marketing for the Maple Guild in Vermont, told Food Navigator.
The American Honey Producers Association said FDA's proposal could make consumers wonder what other ingredients might be added to pure honey when nothing is.
"Honey is a pure sugar so there's no need for added sugars," Chris Hiatt, the association's vice-president, told the Associated Press. "So it's misleading the consumer."
It remains to be seen what the FDA will do now that it has taken a step back from the draft guidance. It may decide to do away with the proposed requirement entirely, which would be good news to honey and maple syrup producers. Many comments from these producers suggested that the FDA not require added sugars to be listed on their product labels since, as they repeatedly pointed out, there aren't any sugars added. Perhaps the agency could require listing the sugar content under "total sugars" and leave it at that.
It could be a different story, however, for producers of dried cranberry and cranberry juice products that do have sugar added. It makes a lot more sense — and might be less misleading for consumers — for those items to be required to list added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel, but that decision will have to wait until the FDA has reviewed those comments.
The revised Nutrition Facts panel, which is being updated for the first time in 20 years, will also require food and beverage makers to list the dietary fiber content in their products. This could also confuse consumers because the FDA is now allowing more non-digestible carbohydrates to be counted as dietary fiber on Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts panels as long as they provide health benefits. Critics say this situation could prompt consumers to select a brownie with added fiber over a piece of fruit with natural fiber if the brownie label shows a higher fiber level.
Whatever the FDA decides to require for the labeling of honey and maple syrup products, it should move fairly quickly since it takes planning, time and money to revise product labels. Manufacturers with $10 million or more in yearly sales have until Jan. 1, 2020, to comply with the new requirements, while the deadline is Jan. 1, 2021, for smaller companies with annual sales of less than that.