Dairy Industry Trying to Hide Aspartame in New Definition of ‘Milk’

Recently big dairy has made a big push to amend the definition of milk – to allow them to add aspartame and other sweeteners without consumers knowing!

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) filed a petition with the FDA1 requesting the agency “amend the standard of identity” for milk and 17 other dairy products. 

This was done to provide for the use of any safe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient — including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame to deceive you by not having to indicate its use on the label.

If the amendment goes through, that would mean anytime you see the word “milk” on the label, it could include aspartame, sucralose, or any other dangerous artificial sweetener, but you could never be quite sure, since there will be no mention of it — not by listing the artificial sweetener used, nor with a no- or low-calorie type label, which is a tip-off that the product might contain a non-nutritive sweetener.
According to the Federal Register:

[T]he proposed amendments would assist in meeting several initiatives aimed at improving the nutrition and health profile of food served in the nation’s schools. Those initiatives include state-level programs designed to limit the quantity of sugar served to children during the school day.

As if that’s not nonsensical enough, the IDFA and NMPF argue that the proposed amendments would “promote honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace.” How could altering the definition of “milk” to include unidentified artificial sweeteners possibly promote honesty or fair dealing in the marketplace, you might ask?

According to the IDFA and NMPF, nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children and have led to an overall decline in milk consumption in schools. Essentially, as with the GMO labeling issue, they don’t want you or your child to be “confused” or perhaps “scared away” by truthful labeling.

The IDFA and NMPF actually 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.”

They also state that consumers generally don’t recognize milk — including flavored milk — as necessarily containing sugar. Therefore, since you don’t realize that flavored milk might contain added sugar, sweetening the product with non-nutritive artificial sweeteners, while listing it as simply “milk” on the label, will make it easier for you to identify its overall nutritional value.

Get it? If not, you’re not alone.

In order to understand this twisted logic, you need to know that the FDA already allows the dairy industry to use the unmodified “milk” label for products that contain added sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Artificial sweeteners are allowed to be added, but must currently be listed on the label. Quoting Section 130.10 of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, the IDFA and NMPF claim no extra labeling is required for artificial sweeteners because sugar is added to milk without labeling it, and “the modified food is not inferior in performance,” and “reduced calories are not attractive to children.”

Therefore marketing products as such is neither of benefit or detriment to anyone… Knowing that nutritive sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup can be added without being listed as an ingredient, is it any wonder that people generally “don’t recognize” these products contain added sugar?

Going along with their twisted reasoning, since they don’t have to tell you there’s HFCS in that flavored milk or yogurt — which leaves you ignorant of the fact that it’s there — it might “confuse” you were they to tell you another version contains an artificial sweetener. It also puts those products at a market disadvantage, since the HFCS-containing products don’t have to list it — the HFCS is simply hidden as part of the “milk” designation.

Hence, hiding ALL added sweeteners from you would “promote honesty” and “fair dealing in the marketplace.” Not only is this a perfect example of how you may be consuming hidden fructose in your diet, even if you are an avid label reader… it’s also a valuable lesson in just how little you’re allowed to know about the foods you buy.

The petition also requests the FDA similarly amend the standards of identity for 17 other milk and cream products, to allow the use of any safe and suitable sweetener in the optional ingredients, without specifying the type of sweetener used on the label:

  • Acidified milk
  • Cultured milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Nonfat dairy milk
  • Nonfat dry milk fortified with vitamins A and D
  • Evaporated milk
  • Dry cream
  • Heavy cream
  • Light cream
  • Sour cream, and acidified sour cream
  • Light whipping cream
  • Eggnog
  • Half-and-half
  • Yogurt
  • Lowfat yogurt
  • Nonfat yogurt

Many are surely scratching their heads wondering WHY anyone would want to alter the definition of milk. One potential clue — besides sheer unbridled greed on behalf of the dairy industry who’d rather not give you the option of choosing — can be found in an April 13, 2011 letter from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) to Julie Brewer, Chief of the Policy and Program Development Branch of the Child Nutrition Division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The letter was in response to the USDA’s proposed rule to revise the meal patterns and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. One of the proposed changes was to limit flavored milk products to fat-free versions only — a change the NMPF claimed would have a negative impact on the goal of increasing overall milk consumption.

The letter reads in part:

The proposed rule will not be a success if milk consumption drops as a result of flavored milk choices that are not appealing (or at least not as appealing as competitive beverages students may bring to school from elsewhere). Flavored milk was included as an option in the proposed rule in recognition that the small amount of added sugar (flavored milk contributes only 2-3% of added sugars to the diets of children and adolescents) is an acceptable trade-off for the extensive nutrient contribution flavored milk provides.

Therefore, NMPF urges the Department to modify the proposed rule to include both low-fat and fat-free flavored milk as options available to schools. To limit the potential for additional calories in a low-fat flavored milk (as compared to a fat-free formulation) we urge the establishment of a calorie limit on flavored milk of 150 calories per eight-ounce serving.

This will provide schools the flexibility to procure milk products that maintain high levels of acceptability and nutrient intake, while also assuring that flavored milk fits within overall calorie limits for meals. Many milk processors have proactively committed to and met a goal of 150 calories per serving as a way to limit the amount of sugar in flavored milk, and have worked within this constraint to formulate products that have demonstrated acceptability among students in schools across the country.

In essence, it has little to do with making your purchasing decisions easier, and more to do with:

  • Fooling your kids into drinking otherwise unpopular fat free or low fat milk, and
  • Allowing the national school breakfast and lunch programs to “look good” by successfully reducing overall calories of the meals while simultaneously helping the dairy industry protect profits

I’m not sure what’s more frustrating here, the fact that the USDA insists on using the flawed theory of calories as a measure of the “healthfulness” of school meals; their misguided insistence on fat free and low fat products to combat obesity; or their ignorant stance on artificial sweeteners.

The FDA is currently accepting public comments on this petition. You have until May 21st, 2013 to submit your comments, and I urge you to do so right away. You can submit your comments electronically or via regular mail. For instructions, please see the following link to the Federal Register.