Salgado, 6, inspects his milk carton during during lunch
at McAuliffe Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, on
May 3, 2013. The dairy industry is asking to change
labeling of non-sugar sweeteners in milk to make it more
discreet but is being opposed by consumer groups.
— In the face of troublingly high childhood obesity rates
and what it sees as troublingly low milk consumption rates,
the dairy industry says it has a solution: Offer kids flavored
milk that uses low-calorie artificial sweeteners.
problem, the industry says, is that current federal rules on
such products require prominent "reduced calorie"
labeling on the front of the package, which is "not
attractive to children" and contributes to an
"overall decline in milk consumption."
industry has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
to allow artificial sweeteners in several dairy products
without prominent labels — just a mention in the ingredient
list on the back.
request has caused an uproar among some parents, consumer
activists and physicians, who see it as little more than a
ploy to sell more milk by confusing consumers about what’s
in the product.
critics particularly object to the idea of marketing the milk
to children as part of the federal school lunch program
because, they believe, children are not likely to read
ingredient lists. They also cite doubts — including those of
government-commissioned medical committees — about whether
artificial sweeteners are safe for developing bodies.
representatives contend that the move would improve health and
level the playing field with other drinks that aren’t
required to signal their use of artificial sweeteners upfront.
The change, they say, would allow them to place the milk in
school lunchrooms. They have also requested permission to sell
it in high school vending machines.
"seek the exact same type of labeling that other
beverages have," said Cary Frye, vice president of
regulatory affairs for the International Dairy Foods
Association, which led the petition. "We are not seeking
say milk is a special case and consumers expect it to be
natural and wholesome.
only reason that the dairy industry is pushing to eliminate
front-of-package labeling is that it knows there are concerns
about these types of ingredients and (is) trying to ‘hide’
them," school lunch activist Ann Cooper wrote in an email
to the Tribune, calling it "yet one more example of
trying to put profit above our children’s health."
we should just eliminate flavored milk from schools, as
opposed to adding chemicals to it," said Cooper, director
of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the
federal lunch program, say artificially sweetened milk with
proper labeling already is being served in schools. They
declined to say when it entered the program or where or how
much is being served.
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the largest districts in Illinois — Chicago Public Schools,
Naperville and Elgin-based U-46 — say they do not offer it.
dairy industry representatives say their interpretation of the
USDA’s rules on school milk is that artificially sweetened
milk cannot be served in schools because, technically, it is
not considered milk under the FDA’s "standard of
one reason the dairy foods association and the National Milk
Producers Federation have specifically asked the FDA to amend
the standard of identity for milk and other dairy products to
include those that contain certain non-nutritive sweeteners
and other additives.
industry filed its petition four years ago, but the FDA is
just now seeking public comment on the request before it makes
a decision. The agency is taking comments —
— through May 21, and consumer groups have urged their
members to speak out.
Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates a diet based on
whole, nutrition-dense foods, said its members contributed
many of the nearly 36,000 comments submitted to the FDA so
far. Although fewer than 200 can be viewed online, most echo
the sentiment of the commenter who posted: "STOP
POISONING US WITH THIS CRAP!!!!"
consumer watchdog group SumOfUs.org says it plans to present
the FDA with a 115,000-person petition this month opposing the
labeling request. The group also bought 15 ads on buses in
Montgomery County, Md., where the FDA is located, reading
"Got aspartame in your kids’ milk?"
obesity awareness has increased over the last decade,
skirmishes over flavored milk have erupted in several school
districts. A half-pint carton of chocolate skim milk served in
Chicago Public Schools contains about 120 calories, compared
with 90 calories for regular skim milk.
dairy industry says about 70 percent of all milk consumed in
schools is the flavored kind and that children greatly prefer
it. Offering lower-calorie versions with artificial
sweeteners, it says, fits in with "FDA’s objectives to
help children and youth develop healthy eating habits."
Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist and associate clinical
professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine
in New York City, said he agrees with that logic.
are seeing a generation that has grown up with a lack of
enough milk," said Ayoob, a paid consultant for the dairy
industry. "And the studies that are available show that
when kids like flavored milk, they don’t stop liking white
milk. And if they like milk and would choose to drink it with
no more calories, to me that’s a win-win."
leader of the anti-sugar movement, pediatric obesity
specialist and endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig might seem
like a potential supporter of a move to sugar substitutes. But
sweeteners "keep kids’ taste buds primed for sweet, so
kids will seek sugared beverages in other venues, even outside
school," Lustig said. "The whole goal is to get kids
off sweets and to resensitize them."
who also worries about what sugar substitutes might do to a
child’s body, would prefer that schools serve white milk
Weston A. Price Foundation says the proposed labeling changes
also would make it harder for children and parents to make
informed decisions about diet.
need to know exactly what is contained in products aimed at
children," said Weston Price President Sally Fallon, who
views artificial sweeteners as "toxic additives."
FDA action takes us in the wrong direction," she said.
USDA-commissioned report by the Institute of Medicine — part
of the National Academies of Science — specifically advised
against allowing artificial sweeteners in foods sold in
elementary school vending machines or canteens for several
reasons, including safety.
many artificial sweeteners are legal under FDA rules, the
scientists wrote, "there is still uncertainty,
particularly about long-term use and about low-level exposure
effects on the health and development of children."
the pediatric nutritionist, said he disagrees that the jury is
still out on the safety of artificial sweeteners. "I
believe the jury is in and they have proven to be safe."
much of the controversy has focused on artificial sweeteners,
and indeed they are the only sugar substitutes mentioned in
the dairy industry petition. But Peggy Armstrong, a
spokeswoman for the International Dairy Foods Association,
said the emergence of newer "natural" sweeteners
(including stevia) means it may be possible to create
reduced-calorie flavored milk without artificial ingredients.
These additives, however, are still considered
"non-nutritive" sweeteners and face the same
campaign manager Kaytee Riek says her group’s opposition to
the industry’s request is less about the safety of
artificial sweeteners than about a consumer’s right to make
decisions based on clear information.
not that we are inherently opposed to aspartame being in
milk," Riek said. "We just want consumers to know
when it’s there. ... I would hope (dairy industry
petitioners) don’t want to be deceptive, but it certainly
seems like they are trying to hide something."