Chris Kasper of Essex Jct. is a State Farm agent who moonlights as a maple syrup producer.
Sugaring was passed down to him from his grandparents’ and parents’ operations. This was his first year going solo, and he hopes to continue.
“It went great. I got six gallons my first year … just [for] family and friends,” he said, and next year, he hopes to sell his product to local restaurants.
But a rough week in the world of maple, with new regulations proposed by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Canada, have left Kasper concerned.
On the international stage last week, a dispute between President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resulted in Canada’s proposal for a tariff on U.S. maple syrup imported into the country. Some are calling it retaliation for the steel and aluminum tariff Trump imposed on Canadian exports to the U.S. in March.
Separately, the FDA has proposed a new “added sugar” label for honey and maple products, a requirement Vermont officials said is misleading for the pure products. Both measures were open for public comment until June 15, according to Amanda Voyer, the communications director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association. Maple makers in Vermont are waiting to see how both play out.
One of Kasper’s motivations to start producing syrup was the difference between the syrup he saw on the shelves and his parents’ syrup.
“When you go to the grocery store to buy maple syrup, it never tastes the same,” he said. “If you measure it … the sugar content does not add up to when you make your own.”
Kasper said to be classified as real syrup, there must be between 66 and 68 degrees Brix of sugar in the product. The Brix scale, he explained, indicates the percentage of naturally occurring sugar in the syrup. It comes from the sap that has been filtered through the tree, then boiled.
Kasper said the “added sugar” label will harm the industry. He’s concerned consumers won’t understand the difference between pure maple syrup and “syrups like Aunt Jemima” if both bear an “added sugar” label, he said.
“Essentially what we are doing is just boiling sap,” Kasper said. “We’re not dumping packets of sugar into this stuff; this is true filtered water through the roots of maple trees, and there’s really nothing more pure than that.”
He believes the impetus for the FDA’s proposal are the “Netflix series and documentaries about how sugar is destroying us.” He feels this is to the detriment of an organic and natural product, as well as its producers. Additionally, Kasper said he fears the label would open the door for false advertising.
“It’s going to allow other people that are making less than maple syrup … to upsell their products just by playing with the wording,” he said.
“A lot of people here work their butts off for a good four months a year just boiling and boiling and boiling. That’s their livelihood,” Kasper continued. “This [proposal] opens a door for somebody to take some of that market share that doesn’t deserve it.”
According to Voyer, the FDA’s proposed label is concerning because it is “categorically false” and could place Vermont pure syrup next to flavored corn syrup on store shelves.
“If now all labeling states that there is added sugar, including pure maple syrup, it would be hard to show any sort of justification for the increased cost associated with … [the] product,” she said.
Voyer hopes the FDA takes the public comments submitted seriously. As of midnight on June 14, over 2,300 comments were sent to the FDA, she said.
As for Canada’s proposed tariff on U.S. syrup exported into the country, Voyer said the concern was minor at the moment but could become problematic.
“We are keeping our eye on it,” she said. “If it really amps up and goes into a true trade war and then we … impose tariffs on their maple syrup imports into the U.S., that would be a problem.”
She said that while the U.S. does not export a significant amount a maple syrup and maple products into Canada, it does rely on imported syrup from Canada to meet domestic demand for the product.
“It would just cause a disruption between two industries across a border that currently work really well together,” Voyer said. “We certainly don’t need our governments interfering [with] what’s working well.”