Alternative reality has become something of an art form these days in Washington; a case in point that could affect the rural Northeast involves a new labeling law the FDA is considering that’s raising the ire of sugarmakers and apiarists. The bureaucracy is trying to make consumers more aware of all the sugar that lurks in food, a commonsensical idea in a country with an obesity problem. But Common Sense packs her bags and takes a bus out of town at the point when they decided to require that the words “added sugar” be put on maple syrup and honey containers, two 100 percent natural products that do not contain added sugar. In fact, if you add sugar to either you’ll face steep fines.
You can read more about the details in this news story by VPR’s John Dillon, but the Cliffs Notes version of what happened next is that some sugarmakers and honey producers went down to D.C. to let the FDA know that the proposed label would be both not true and potentially damaging to business. “It just became apparent that the FDA wasn’t going to sort of bow to reality, or bow to a standard interpretation of the English language,” said Roger Brown, one of the sugarmakers quoted in the story. “And so was going to continue to say, ‘no, added sugar doesn’t mean sugar added to food, it means sugar added to your diet in excess of what’s nutritionally appropriate.”
As a sugarmaker I have a dog in this fight, of course. But it’s worth noting the larger point that words and phrases need to adhere to their accepted meanings in order to have meaning. If you look at the social fabric that holds society together under a microscope you’ll see that it’s mostly made up of words. East can’t mean north, you know? We fail to police this sort of thing at our peril.
The FDA is accepting comments on this through June 15, so if you’re inclined to offer an opinion on the matter, here’s a link.