FDA deploys its criminal division to probe another ‘syrupy’ case of food identity theft

Posted by
November 1, 2011

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been asked by the Corn Refiners Association to give its approval to food identity theft in the case of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),  the alleged identity theft of another type of syrup has become the basis of an FDA criminal probe.  The agency’s office of Criminal Investigation recently helped in the indictment of a Rhode Island man by a Vermont federal grand jury for selling “pure” maple syrup that contained not a trace of the sweet tree sap. The story doesn’t stop there. Hot off the heels of the indictment, a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York would make selling fake maple syrup a felony that could land you up to five years in jail. The proposed bill, called M.A.P.L.E. – The Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement Act – also has the backing of Vermont’s two U.S. senators  Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, as well as Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins. Up to now, selling phony maple products posing as real ones has been considered merely a misdemeanor.

In related fake-maple news, Vermont, the state that produces the most maple syrup, took McDonald’s to task for its new fruit & maple oatmeal offering this past January, which – surprise, surprise — contains no real maple syrup. Violating the state’s law regarding the labeling of maple products, the case had an interesting conclusion; last February customers at McDonald’s locations in Vermont got the option of requesting 100 percent maple syrup or real sugar when they order the oatmeal item. Apparently no such luck if you visit a McDonald’s in another state. Of course, you can always BYOB of real maple syrup.

Keep the suggestions coming in!

The past few weeks, I’ve received lots of e-mail with great suggestions on new issues to address here at Food Identity Theft. In the coming months we will be targeting additional misleading and mislabeled food items, some of them from reader suggestions, so keep talking to us about what you notice in the supermarket that makes you think “food identity theft.”

On the “corn sugar” scam front, the FDA  posted more citizen comments last week from consumers outraged over the petition filed last year by the Corn Refiners Association to rebrand high fructose corn syrup with the name “corn sugar.”

As I reported last Thursday, consumer comments at the online FDA docket were holding at 127 for the longest time. Then, after much back and forth with my agency contact about consumer submissions (which last week totaled 3,398, he claimed), the online numbers started rising. A check today shows a total of 298 public submissions posted so far.

I’m still mining through the newly posted comments, and have yet to see one that is in favor of the sweeter-sounding name change. Here are some examples:

Please do not change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup. People are learning to buy food without HFCS, which is a good thing.

I am a consumer, and I have rights. I have to the right to know what is in my food, and I should be able to trust the labels that I read. Do not try to sneak high fructose corn syrup past me! I am boycotting all things corn until I know my food is safe from HFCS or Corn Sugar or whatever you want to call it. I know how to read labels and I am teaching my friends and family how to read them.

It would be good to think that re-naming HFCS to “corn sugar” would fool no one, but alas, it will, and that’s the intent of the Corn Refiners Assn. It’s pure spin, to put an innocent-sounding term to an unnatural substance…Because the public is finally becoming educated to the adverse effects of HFCS, the official response will be to christen it with a euphemism? If a move like that — outright intent to deceive — is not criminal, it should be. It’s driven by the profit motive, not human health. Please disallow this deceptive practice.

We hope you add your voice to the issue (if you haven’t already) to help convince the FDA to take this attempt at food identity theft as seriously as that involving maple syrup.