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standard of identity Archive

Aspartame in Milk: Your Dairy is About to Change and You Won’t Even Know It When It Does

March 27, 2013

The dairy industry recently created quite a stir after the public release of its petition to the FDA to amend the definition of milk. Essentially, the industry wishes to change the standard of identity of milk so that a product flavored with a “non-nutritive sweetener” like aspartame can still marketed and labeled as plain ol’ milk. See 78 FR 11791-01; 21 C.F.R. § 131.110 Milk. The dairy industry petition states the amendment would “promote more healthful eating practices” and “reduce childhood obesity” by providing low-cal flavored milk options. Id.

“What’d that guy just say?”

Currently, if the industry wishes to add artificial sweeteners to milk, they have to label it as such, or at least include a nutrient content claim like “reduced sugar” or “low-calorie” to the label. But under the proposal, the industry could completely eliminate these claims from milk labels. As long as an artificial sweetener is included in the listed ingredients, the product may simply be labeled “milk.”

The dairy industry defends this measure by insisting nutrient content claims are unattractive to consumers. It even goes as far as saying that consumers can “more easily identify the overall nutritional value” of artificially-sweetened milk products if “the labels do not include such claims.” id.

Consumer advocacy group SumOfUs.Org has already collected over 111,000 signatures petitioning the petition. Kaytee Riek of SumOfUs.org shared with HuffPost that a major problem with the proposed amendment is that it creates an effect running counter to its stated purpose: “Hyper-sweet additives like aspartame rewire children’s brains so that they always want sugary foods, turning the kids into tiny consumption machines.”

Others are concerned about consumer deception. By not fully disclosing that a milk product may be loaded with chemical sweeteners, the milk industry faces major consumer wariness.

Amid a national decline in milk consumption, it is obvious the industry is doing what it feels best to increase numbers. From a business standpoint, it makes sense for the dairy industry to jump on the artificial sweetener bandwagon.

But let’s be honest folks. Robbing consumers (many of whom dislike or distrust artificial sweeteners) of label notifications like “reduced-sugar” won’t help us. It will anger us. In our very busy lives, the last thing we need is to run to the store for some “milk,” only to come home and discover we got something different than we bargained for. The dairy industry certainly has the right to sell artificially-sweetened milk, but we have just as much right to be fully-informed consumers.

The FDA’s comment period on the dairy industry petition lasts through May 21. If you have thoughts you would like to share, learn how to make your own submission here.

– By Gabriella Agostinelli

King Corn vs. Big Sugar

September 16, 2011

It is no secret that high fructose corn syrup has had a rough decade. In response, the corn industry is trying to re-brand their product as “corn sugar”, under the theory that if just the name is changed, somehow the product will shed its bad rep overnight. It’s so brazenly patronizing it just might work. In a response to the response, producers of refined sugar have taken umbrage. In a California federal court, sugar refiners have sought to enjoin the corn industry from using the word “sugar” as part of the rebranding drive.

Settling this bittersweet (see what I did there?) food fight calls for some real bureaucratic, regulatory minutiae. Who’s ready for a nap?

The Food and Drug Administration, believe it or not, quietly and methodically regulates a compendium of words used to label and market food. The goal of this monumental effort is to fix the definition of foods and to regulate the words companies use to market them in order to minimize customer confusion. These definitions are called ‘standards of identity’. The FDA has standards of identity for goods like margarine, frozen cherry pie, asiago cheese, and almost everything else you have ever eaten. These reams are every bit as boring as they sound. They will, however, help resolve the fight between King Corn vs. Big Sugar (though it is a shame that these two pampered, heavily subsidized industries can’t both lose).

Sure enough, there are standards of identity for sweeteners, too. 21 CFR 168.110 sets the definition of anhydrous dextrose, the stuff that looks like table sugar, as purified and crystallized glucose, without water of crystallization, with a total solids content not less than 98.0 percent. The name of a sugar product can be prefaced by the name of the food source which contributed the raw material for the sweetener. That means you can label a product beet sugar, corn sugar, or cane sugar only if those products contributed the raw materials for the sugar.

21 CFR 168.120 fixes the definition of sweet syrups as “the purified, concentrated, aqueous solution of nutritive saccharides obtained from edible starch.” The same naming conventions apply to syrups which apply to anhydrous sugars; corn syrup if derived from corn, sorghum if it comes from sorghum.

The sugar/syrup divide is delineated entirely on the moisture content of the sweetener at issue. My guess is that the matter pending in LA federal court will be determined by these dreary principles of elemental chemistry.

I wager that King Corn will be the loser. The infrastructure of HFCS is designed to handle an aqueous product, currently defined by the rules as “syrup”. The pipes and tanks that the food industry uses to hold, pump, and transport liquid corn sweetener represents a capital investment too significant to be abandoned. Drying out their product so that it meets the standard of identity for anhydrous, even if economically feasible, would nullify these investments. Like our generation of obese youth, Big Corn is irrevocably sailing on a river of sweet, sticky liquid gold. Refined sugar has the regulatory advantage right now, unless Corn successfully lobbies the FDA to change its standards of identity, which it is trying to do.