Phony Syrup Could Send You to Prison
If Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are correct, our pancakes and waffles are suffering from the scourge of fake maple syrup. Recently, the Senators from Vermont and Maine, along with the New York delegation, introduced the Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement, or MAPLE, Act.
In his press release, Senator Leahy stated: “Vermonters take pride in the natural products our state produces, and I have been alarmed by the growing number of individuals and businesses claiming to sell Vermont maple syrup when they are in fact selling an inferior product that is not maple syrup at all. This is fraud, plain and simple, and it undermines a key part of Vermont’s economy. I know that hardworking syrup producers in Maine, New York and other states have been similarly hurt by this crime. Our bill will deter this criminal conduct.” Under current law, passing off imitation syrup carries a one-year penalty, while the new law would increase the offense to a felony, punishable up to five years.
This story brings up the issue of geographical indicators. According to the USPTO, “geographical indications are indications that identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” Geographical indicators serve as (1) source-identifiers; (2) guarantees of quality; (3) and protectors of business good will. Much like Champagne comes only from a certain region of France or Idaho potatoes can only come from Idaho, maple syrup will have to be genuine maple in order to receive that designation.
While maple syrup protection may not be high on the list of priorities for most Americans, it is important to recognize a product’s locality and its assurances of quality. Like Napa Valley wine, Georgia peaches or Florida oranges, a locality takes pride in its agriculture and it is unfortunate when others take advantage of the good will built up over the years. Producers of maple syrup want their consumers to know that the product they are buying is genuine. While the punishment chosen may be a bit heavy handed, I applaud the Senators’ effort to come together and help local farmers in their states.