Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Dairy industry petitions FDA to make it easier to flavor milk with aspartame

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have petitioned FDA to modify the standard of identity for milk, permitting companies to add a non-calorie sweetener without additional labeling.

The petition proposes to allow dairy companies to add the non-nutritive sweetener aspartame to milk, without being required to label the milk as "low-calorie" or "low-sugar."  Currently, aspartame is allowed in milk (just as in diet soda), but such milk must be labeled to let the consumer know.

It appears the dairy industry is especially interested in marketing low-calorie flavored milk through child nutrition programs.  The FDA summary of the petition explains:
IDFA and NMPF state that the proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products. They state that lower-calorie flavored milk would particularly benefit school children who, according to IDFA and NMPF, are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school....

IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as "reduced calorie'' are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims.
My view is that milk with aspartame should be labeled as clearly different from regular milk.  The push to market sweetened milk through child nutrition programs is a debatable public health nutrition strategy, whether the milk is sweetened with sugar or aspartame.  The drive for sweetened milk seems like dairy industry marketing as much as sound nutrition program design.  It may be better to let children cultivate their taste for less-sweetened foods and beverages.  Although reasonable people may differ on that point, it would be unwise to settle the matter by allowing sales of aspartame-sweetened milk without noticeable labeling.

You can submit comments to FDA (by May 21) and read comments from others here. Some comments already submitted are strongly opposed.

Hat tip to Ashley Colpaart.

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