Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jam and the Supreme Court

Here's a fascinating tidbit that I found while I was researching what I'd need to do if I wanted to sell my jam across state lines.

62 cases of Jam vs. United States

Basically, it went like this -  62 cases of clearly labelled Imitation Jam were seized by the government under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.  

The jam was labelled Imitation because it contained more sugar than fruit. 

The government seized these 62 cases of jam because people were treating it like real jam.   Hotels were buying it and serving it to customers as real jam.   The legal questions were esoteric and revolved around the definition of 'imitation' and Congress' desire to protect the public. 

The lower court found in favor of the jam.   The appeals court found in favor of the United States.  The Supreme Court found in favor of the jam - in a 7-2 decision they found that 'imitation' means 'imitation'.    

This was in 1949.

In a hugely ironic twist, today, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, jam is defined as having at least 65% sugar.** Practically speaking, the FDA has made sugar the star of the show. They use the label ‘jam’ for fruit flavored sugar. If the product has less sugar, then the FDA would label it as ‘fruit spread’. 

**Update:   revised on April 1, 2012 says that there should be 55% sugar.

Feel free to weigh in on this.     


  1. I'm sure there's a percentage (big or small) of the cost of store bought food now-days that must attribute to the legal fees growers are surely subjected to, and ultimately pass on to consumers, just to understand the law in order to sell their own product.

    Too many legalities for me.

    I say if you have some jam, and ever wanted to send it my way, I'd never make a complaint about the terminology or ratio of sugar in it. :)

    1. Eric and I were saying this morning that there is so much regulation that it's a crap shoot whether even the bureaucrats know the law. The online Table of Contents alone for the FDA docs I was reading was 255 pages. Two hundred fifty five pages. Just the Table of Contents. Give me a break.

  2. almost need a lawyer that specializes in this to guide you-as rules change all the time as well-and then just passed a huge new food bill last year I believe


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