Highland County maple syrup producers consider new federal regulations

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HIGHLAND COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) At the Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell, though they have lots of fun items like birdhouses and jellies, it’s really all about the maple.

“When a customer walks in the door," says owner Fern Heatwole, "I’ll say maple syrup is our feature item usually, maple products.”

But down here in far southwest Virginia, Canadian tariffs seem a long way off.

“No, we talk about sales tax," Heatwole says. "But not really the tariff thing.”

But if you want to get them going, bring up labeling.

“It’s going to be no different than Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin, or any number of things that’s out there,” says Southernmost Maple owner Mike Puffenbarger. “They’re asking us to do labels that say ‘added sugar.’ We haven’t added sugar. It comes from the tree.”

Highland’s maple producers are very proud of their product, and don’t want it confused with cheaper maple-flavored substitutes.

“We’re proud of the fact that, and all the producers are, that they’re making a product that God has give us, that come from a tree,"
Puffenbarger says. "All we do is cook it down to the right consistency, bottle it up, and sell it.”

FDA officials say they want the change to help consumers control their sugar intake, but the farmers disagree.

“When it’s 100 percent out of the tree, concentrated down with nothing added, it needs to stay just like it is,” says Puffenbarger.