11/12/2012 12:48 EST | Updated 01/12/2013 05:12 EST

Maple label changes scare Ottawa producer

Proposed labelling changes for Canadian maple products aim to maximize export potential by separating them from knockoffs, but at least one local sugar bush owner worries her company would take a financial hit from such changes.

At Proulx Sugarbush and Berry Farm in east Ottawa, a label change would cause more confusion for consumers and its staff, said owner Gisele Proulx. The change in label regulations could also lead to rolls of wasted labels.

"There's going to be a lot more bookkeeping, management, proper labelling," said Proulx.

But according to industry members who are pushing for the labelling changes, cheaper syrup knockoffs, sometimes labelled "maple-flavoured" or pancake syrups, can confuse consumers, skimming off sales for North American producers of real maple syrup.

The move is meant to clear up the characteristics of "pure maple syrup," including the grade of the syrup, the taste and colour, the origin and lot codes, which improve producers’ ability to quickly identify, respond to and advise the CFIA of potentially unsafe maple products.

In May, the Senate, acting on industry requests, passed a motion to push the federal government to modernize and standardize the Maple Products Regulations. The CFIA has since launched a public consultation campaign, through an online survey, that runs until Dec. 7.

Maple syrup is major export

Canada exported more than $220 million worth of maple products last year and the country produces about 85 per cent of the world's maple syrup.

Maple syrup is big business. That was never more evident than this past August when thieves stole 16,000 barrels of maple syrup worth about $30 million from a warehouse northeast of Montreal.

There is a divide between producers supplying local markets and the world marketing of Canadian maple syrup.

Dave Chapeskie, executive director of the International Maple Syrup Institute, said standardized labels open up trade possibilities with countries such as Korea, China and India.

"We want to have a product that is branded, that has a world brand. Not a local brand, not a regional brand, but a world brand," he said.

"[We want] to have a much larger segment of consumers around the world understand, and appreciate and have had the opportunity to taste our fine product."

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is also quoted on the CFIA website as saying, "Nothing is more Canadian than maple syrup," and "these proposed changes will help strengthen our maple producers’ position on the world stage."