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King to FDA: “There’s No Sugar Added, Pure Honey is Pure Honey”

June 08, 2018

ELLSWORTH, ME – Today, U.S. Senator King visited the farm of Peter Cowin, the President of the Penobscot County Beekeeper’s Association who is also known as the ‘Bee Whisperer,’ to discuss a new regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would require honey and maple products to include “added sugar” on their nutrition label. The FDA states that the change is meant to help consumers be aware of the amount of sugar they are adding to their daily diet, but maple and honey producers worry this regulation could easily be mistaken by consumers to refer to sugar added after harvesting, which is not the case for pure, simple ingredient foods like maple and honey.

“Today I saw the full process of honey harvesting, from honey in the hive with wax on top through the final product, and I can say this: there is no sugar added,” said Senator King. “Pure honey is pure honey, but a phrase like ‘added sugar’ misleads consumers about the process of creating these all-natural products – the FDA should clarify this phrase immediately so consumers can understand what they’re buying.

As part of his visit today, Senator King received a demonstration of how Cowin harvests honey, which can be viewed in part HERE.

Senator King’s visit comes on the same day that he joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers in sending a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib insisting he exempt pure maple syrup and honey from the new “added sugars” disclosure requirements.

“While we support FDA’s effort to ensure the label remains scientifically valid and helpful to consumers, we are concerned about the misleading impression that an ‘added sugars’ disclosure on single ingredient maple and honey products would create,” wrote the legislators.  “An ‘added sugars’ declaration on single ingredient maple and honey products may signal to consumers that these pure products – such as a bottle of maple syrup or jar of honey – actually contain added sweeteners such as table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. This is patently false.”

The members continued, “We appreciate FDA’s recognition of this issue and willingness to consider alternative labeling options for these products. Although the FDA’s March 2, 2018 Draft Guidance would allow manufacturers to add a symbol immediately after the added sugars daily value directing consumers to clarifying language elsewhere on the label, this approach seems unlikely to reduce consumer confusion. The simplest, most common sense solution to this issue would be to exempt single ingredient maple and honey products from the added sugars disclosure requirement because they do not, in fact, contain any added sugars.”

The full letter can be read HERE or below.

Later today, Senator King will visit the new Downeast Treatment Center, where he will meet with representatives from Healthy Acadia and Downeast Substance Treatment Network and discuss their work to combat the opioid epidemic. The Downeast Treatment Center, which opened in April, is part of the Downeast Substance Treatment Network’s ‘Hub and Spoke’ model – under this approach, the Center serves as the ‘Hub’, providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and group sessions; after the individual seeking treatment has been deemed to be stabilized, treatment then shifts to a ‘Spoke,’ consisting of a primary care provider and a substance use counselor of the individual’s choice.  

Following this visit, Senator King will stop by the Union River Center for Innovation, a combined public/private partnership that utilizes high-speed connectivity to create an incubator and co-working space for startups or other businesses. Senator King attended the ribbon cutting for this facility in August 2016, and will receive an update on the progress of the now-fully occupied incubator. Senator King will then give the commencement address at the Ellsworth High School graduation.

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Dear Commissioner Gottlieb:

We write today regarding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. While we support FDA’s effort to ensure the label remains scientifically valid and helpful to consumers, we are concerned about the misleading impression that an “added sugars” disclosure on single ingredient maple and honey products would create. As FDA finalizes its changes to the label, we ask that you exempt these products from any new “added sugars” disclosure requirements.

As you know, the Nutrition Facts label has not been meaningfully updated in decades. We commend the FDA for its effort to revamp this label and fully support this undertaking. By incorporating the latest evidence-based information on nutrient, fat, and caloric content, the updated Nutrition Facts label will help consumers make more informed, healthy dietary choices.

As part of this effort, we understand that the FDA plans to require an “added sugars” disclosure for most products. While this label will provide consumers with a greater understanding of the types and sources of sugar they are consuming, we are concerned about the misleading impression this requirement would create for single ingredient maple and honey products.

The presence of an “added sugars” label may lead consumers to believe that maple syrup and honey are no longer pure products, undermining decades of education and marketing while negatively impacting sales.  An “added sugars” declaration on single ingredient maple and honey products may signal to consumers that these pure products – such as a bottle of maple syrup or jar of honey – actually contain added sweeteners such as table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. This is patently false. Moreover, this requirement could set back years of consumer-focused education aimed at highlighting the pure aspect of these products and guarding against adulterated brands.

We appreciate FDA’s recognition of this issue and willingness to consider alternative labeling options for these products. Although the FDA’s March 2, 2018 Draft Guidance would allow manufacturers to add a symbol immediately after the added sugars daily value directing consumers to clarifying language elsewhere on the label, this approach seems unlikely to reduce consumer confusion. The simplest, most commonsense solution to this issue would be to exempt single ingredient maple and honey products from the added sugars disclosure requirement because they do not, in fact, contain any added sugars.

Additionally, we appreciate FDA’s April 13, 2018 decision to extend the Draft Guidance comment period by 45 days. As you know, maple producers across the country are in the midst of sugaring season and beekeepers have just finished pollination season. This has left little time for them to weigh in on FDA’s proposal. Further, the honey industry is currently undertaking an effort to study the impact of the guidance on consumer perception and will not have that ready by May. Extending the comment period deadline to June 15, 2018 will provide producers with the time necessary to submit meaningful feedback. 

By exempting maple and honey from an “added sugars” disclosure, FDA is well positioned to support these industries while reducing consumer confusion. We look forward to working with you on this matter.


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