Words Matter

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.

  1. C Mark Blatchley → in Erving
    Jun 08, 2018

    “Added” should mean what is added to an item of food. Not that it is “added” to my diet.

  2. Antonia Grumbach → in Massachusetts
    Jun 09, 2018

    The term “added sugar” means extra sugar has been added to a product—not that the natural content of the product has its own high sugar content. Will the FDA now require sugar packaging to contain the words “added sugar?” because it has more sugar than is nutritionally appropriate?  How much did the sugar lobby contribute to get this change. Please do not require the words “added sugar” on maple syrup and honey on the packaging as it is NOT true.

  3. Mrs Patricia D March → in Woodstock
    Jun 10, 2018

    Are they planning to put “Added Sugar” on bags of granulated sugar?  If not, they can’t do it to honey or maple syrup either.

  4. William Risso → in South Strafford
    Jun 11, 2018

    Thanks Dave. I’ve commented.

  5. Cindy → in Middleton, NH
    Jun 17, 2018

    A.  This is the sort of thing lawmakers do that make people respect them less. 

    B.  We do eat waaaay too much sugar.  But I wonder if this will be like when fat was demonized.  Everything in excess is bad for you even sleep, sunshine, exercise, and water. Moderation is the key.  Like “healthy fats”, honey and maple sugar almost have to be the “healthy sugars”. 

    C.  Let’s skip all the studies, health articles, and confusion for the next 30 years and just use common sense.

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