This is a wide-view from the side of the Coral Princess as we go through the Panama Canal in January 2012.

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Ou est mon Sirop D'Erable?

A Rick-Mercer-style rant.

With a single drop, the rite of spring in eastern Canada has begun. Sweet and pure, maple syrup epitomizes the Great White North in all its unspoiled glory. But out in the snowy forests where the nation's iconic, slowly awakening trees are being tapped, there is more brewing than unadulterated amber sugar. - from a Macleans article, May 2007


I read recently in Macleans about issues with the Maple Syrup industry. You see, Canada has 85% of the global maple syrup market, and the province of Quebec has 95% of that. The Quebec maple syrup producers are entirely mom-and-pop shops producing their own syrup and surprisingly the whole thing is regulated by a quota system; there are apparently "vast" reserves of maple syrup out there so that prices remain stable from one year to the next. Maple syrup is also graded by number and colour, with #1 Extra Light considered the best and being the most expensive.

I never gave it much thought before. I've never really understood the numbering and grading system - all I know is that pure Canadian Maple Syrup is awesome compared to any artificial sugar concoction from Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin. So whenever I end up in Quebec, I pick up a couple of cans of the first syrup I see - because it's about half the price it is in Ontario.

The problem (according to the article) is that with so many unregulated small operators making "mapple sirop" in their bathtubs, some are resorting to unsavoury practices to pad their margins. Of most interest to me in the article was the gadget they use to inject air into lower quality "amber" syrup to make it look like #1 Extra Light. Also of some concern was the contamination of some of the syrup with (sweet-sweet) pipe-lead and paraformaldehyde - an illegal chemical that makes the trees bleed longer. So, the tone of the article suggested that instead of a closely regulated company like Aunt Jemima making their barely tolerable excuse for syrup under the close watch of the US FDA, we have Jean-Paul and Germaine filling up empty bottles of Labatt 50 on the back porch, sucking on a couple of Craven-A's, and letting their cigarette ash fall into the vast syrup reserves while giving the finger to Health Canada.

What is proposed in the article is an expensive certification system where by maple syrup is "certified organic" Apparently the system is broken and ISO9002 is the only way to fix it.

Now, it's obvious to me that there is no problem. The system has worked for many years and the vast majority of the syrup producers out there are responsible people, but just as one guy tries to put a bomb in his shoe and now the world has to take off their shoes before going through X-ray at an airport, so it is that one (or so) unscrupulous maple syrup producer is going to have repercussions for an entire industry.

As I read the article, I realized that I can also see the future of maple syrup in Quebec (and Canada). One big conglomerate will purchase several smaller operations and produce non-descript yet "certified" maple syrup. Slowly, (but not really) they will either swallow up or squeeze out every single existing producer of maple syrup in Quebec until they are the only player left. Then this conglomerate will be purchased by a U.S. concern and that will be the end of another Canadian icon.

Our national beer brands, Molson and Labatts are no longer Canadian owned. Tim Horton's, the donut and coffee chain that Canadians most identify themselves with, is owned by Wendys out of Columbus, Ohio. And the image and likeness of the very symbol of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman on horseback - the Mountie - is owned by...wait for it...Disney!

And now we are going to lose Canadian Maple Syrup. All that will be left is back bacon, the beaver, and the maple leaf, but let's face it: we don't really want back bacon, Dubai will probably buy all rights to the maple leaf, and we lost the beaver a long time ago to Jerry Mathers.

Ou est mon Sirop D'Erable?
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