Quebec’s maple syrup industry is grappling with a new California law that requires larger syrup producers to affix warning labels to their products if their syrup contains more than trace amounts of lead.

“We have to put ‘Product may contain lead,’” producer David Hall of Broke Lake, Que., told CTV Montreal. “And that’s not a selling point for syrup.”

Although trace amounts of lead are found naturally in sap, larger doses can also leach through metal fittings in older equipment.

“For Canada the maximum lead content in maple syrup is 500 parts per billion,” Simon Trepanier, executive director of the Quebec Maple Syrup Federation, explained to CTV Montreal. “But in California, it's 11 parts per billion. It's about the same lead content maximum as water.”

That essentially means expensive equipment changes if Quebec producers want to export to The Golden State, which has a 39 million people – a higher population than Canada’s.

In order to comply with the new California regulations and avoid placing the ignominious “Product may contain lead” label on his syrup, Hall bought a new $80,000 evaporator for his 22,000-tap operation.

California’s recent rules affect all sugaring operations with more than 20,000 taps, but the Quebec Maple Syrup Federation is also pushing for all exporting producers to follow California’s new guidelines.

“Big (maple syrup) chains, when they are packing a product, the same bottle (will be sold) from coast to coast in the U.S.,” Trepanier said. “So, when we are talking about the California market, we have to think about the American market.”

Roughly 60 per cent -- or about $300 million worth -- of Canada’s exported maple syrup is sent south of the border. And with the largest syrup crop in Canadian history occurring last season, Hall says that exporting producers like him simply cannot ignore California’s new regulations.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Kelly Greig