Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fairness in Food Labeling – McDonald’s Forgets the Maple Syrup in Its Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

Food labeling acts as the connection between the farmer, chef, restaurant and consumer. All along the ‘food-chain’ fairness in labeling helps inform and protect the consumer. States enact a number of food safety laws, some with particular twists. Vermont, well-known for its maple syrup, includes in its food labeling laws a requirement that use of the word “maple” on the label means the use of 100% maple syrup (click here for the news report). Thus, it’s illegal in Vermont to sell a maple product unless it’s truly made of maple.

Food giant McDonald’s overlooked Vermont’s maple requirement when introducing its fruit and maple oatmeal product. According the Vermont Agency of Agriculture the breakfast item contains the following: “whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural maple flavor with other natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, and caramel color.” Vermont provided McDonald’s notice and 60-90days to change its label.

Washington State based its food labeling requirements upon the Federal Fair Package and Labeling Act. The Department of Agriculture notes that labels for processed foods can be one of the “most expensive start-up costs for new processed products.” Thus, if your restaurant is selling processed food at retail be aware of food labeling requirements.

There appears to be no industry specific requirements as there are in Vermont. The Department of Health is clear though that food must be “honest presented” (ACRW §3-601.12). This means that foods must “offered for human consumption” in a manner that doesn’t “mislead or misinform” the consumer including “colored overwraps or lights” that affect the appearance, color and quality of food. The law otherwise defers to federal regulations to control the accuracy of what is listed (21 CFR 131-169 and 9 CFR 319 Definitions and Standards of Identity or Composition). Thus, it’s unclear whether McDonald’s use of “maple syrup” will be challenged outside of Vermont.

The lesson for restaurants, farmers, and other sellers of retail food products is to do your homework and ensure your food label is fair and accurate.

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