WASHINGTON – Vermonters take their maple syrup seriously.

So much so that the state’s U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would make it a federal felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to sell something labeled as maple syrup when it is not.

“Vermont iconic maple syrup — painstakingly produced, and prized across the nation and beyond — is one of our state’s fine, high-quality, natural products,” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in introducing the legislation.

A growing number of people are claiming to sell genuine Vermont maple syrup when “they are in fact selling an inferior product that is not maple syrup at all,” he said, adding that the misrepresentation undermines a key part of Vermont’s economy.

“We think it is terribly wrong for people to produce a phony product and call it Vermont maple syrup,” independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a news release.

Leahy, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is well positioned to advance the legislation, introduced the legislation in the wake of a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation that found a Rhode Island man had been selling cane sugar-based syrup as maple syrup.

Under existing law, fraudulently representing something as maple syrup is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year behind bars.

“Too often, those who are willing to endanger our livelihoods in pursuit of their profits see fines as just a cost of doing business,” Leahy said in the statement. “We need to make sure that those who intentionally deceive consumers get a trip to jail, not a slap on the wrist.

“Schemers should not easily be able to sully the seal of quality that is associated with genuine Vermont maple syrup,” he added.

Senators from maple-syrup-producing Maine and New York joined the Vermont senators in sponsoring the proposed Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement, or MAPLE, Act.