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.
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