This has been going around the net like wildfire. The idea that the dairy industry is trying to “sneak” something into milk makes it sound like they want to put artificial sweeteners in milk without saying so on the label. Other versions of this question going around are more like “Is the Government putting aspartame in milk?” Yes, the gov owns all the dairy farms. In fact, in government offices, they don’t have water coolers, they have milk coolers, and they are all under the control of aliens who use aspartame to control their minds. So, there you go.
C’mon. Are we really this gullible? The dairy industry is already perfectly free to put artificial sweeteners into milk. They can put it into sweetened flavored milk products like chocolate milk, or strawberry milk, etc. If they do that, they have to prominently proclaim on the label that it is a reduced sugar or reduced calorie product. No, the dairy industry has not expressed any desire to put artificial sweeteners like aspartame into regular, unflavored, unsweetened milk.
So, who, exactly is this dairy industry? In this case, they are the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). And jointly, fancy for together, they sent a petition to the FDA which you can read about here.
What this petition requested is that the FDA amend the Standard of Identity for milk (21 CFR part 131.110 yada yada), to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener in optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk. Translated, this is saying that milk has an FDA regulated definition, called the Standard of Identity, which governs what can be put in it and what cannot. You want to know how the FDA defines milk? I knew you would. Here it goes:
Milk is the acteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. Milk that is in final package form for beverage use shall have been pasteurized or ultrapasteurized, and shall contain not less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids not fat and not less than 3 1/4 percent milkfat. Milk may have been adjusted by separating part of the milkfat therefrom, or by adding thereto cream, concentrated milk, dry whole milk, skim milk, concentrated skim milk, or nonfat dry milk. Milk may be homogenized.
I’ll bet that is a lot more words than you’ve ever used to define milk, isn’t it? But now, maybe, you’re beginning to see why an industry might write a letter to the FDA concerning what goes in and what comes out of milk. But it doesn’t end there. The above passage is the definition of milk, which is called the description. Now, there are also optional things that can be added to milk. Vitamins are one of them and the regulation says how much vitamin A should be present in the milk, if it is added. And how much vitamin D, if it is added.
What else might be added? Now, remember, I am talking about the standard of identity that exists now. So, carriers for vitamins A and D can be added. I’ll explain that, too. While you’re here, you may as well get the facts. Milk can use different types of vitamin concentrates that either contain oil based or water dispersable formulations. If you have milk that is fortified with vitamin A, look on the ingredients list and you might see it listed as vitamin A palmitate. These formulations can have carriers such as corn oil, water, polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, or glycerol monooleate. There can also be antioxidants or preservatives added. The carrier, basically, is what the product comes in. How it is delivered. You stick a chip in salsa and eat it, the chip is a carrier. You mix Nestle Quik into milk, then drink it, the milk is a carrier. You can’t just throw some vitamin powder into milk. You put it in a carrier, and some of the things the carriers contain may be surprising. Let’s continue.
The next optional ingredient listed are characterizing flavoring ingredients. These can be with or without coloring, nutritive sweeteners (sugar), emulsifiers, and stabilizers. Examples of optional characterizing flavoring ingredients are fruit and fruit juice and natural and artificial flavoring. Whoa..there we go. That’s the part that is in question and I’ve bolded the important parts.
So, to make things clear, chocolate milk would contain a natural flavor: chocolate. Right now, to still be able to be called just chocolate milk, it can only contain a nutritive sweetener. That means it cannot contain an artificial sweetener like aspartame, sucralose, etc. It can have sugar, corn syrup, etc. but not a non-nutritive sweetener, which is what we call artificial sweeteners. It is OK for these to be used in milk products already, mind you. But if they are used, then the label of the milk product has to read differently.
For instance, if an artificial sweetener is used in a chocolate milk product instead of high fructose corn syrup (which is typical), It will have to read “Reduced Sugar Chocolate Milk” or “Reduced-Calorie Chocolate Milk.” In addition to this, the nonnutritive ingredients must be flagged with an asterisk (*) and say *Ingredients not in regular milk. This means the milk qualifies for an FDA nutrient content claim, but the level of sugar reduction or calorie reduction must be more than 25%. Also, in some cases, if a milk product does not meet the milk standard, it can use these artificial sweeteners if it is labelled as a “milk drink” or a “milk beverage.” So you see, it’s all very red tapish and difficult to follow, but the two take-home points are 1) Artificial sweeteners can be used in flavored milk products and 2) They cannot be “sneaked” in without you noticing, unless you pay no attention to food labels, whatsoever.
Before going any further, here is the part of the standard of identity we were just talking about:
21 CFR Ch. I (4–1–06 Edition)
(2) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring, nutritive sweetener, emulsifiers, and stabilizers) as follows:
(i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit juice).
(ii) Natural and artificial food flavorings.
And here is what the petition letter said, in regards to this, that they want to have changed:
A. Action Requested
IDFA and NMPF request the agency to amend the standard of identity for milk, 21 C.F.R. § 131.110, as follows:
(c) Optional ingredients. The following safe and suitable ingredients may be used.
(1) Carriers for vitamins A and D.,
(2) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring, any safe and suitable sweetener, emulsifiers, and stabilizers) as follows:
(i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit juice).
(ii) Natural and artificial food flavorings.
They then went on mention an appendix that contains requested revised language for a whole lot of other dairy products, but that is not important to this question. Notice the bolded part. See the difference? They want to be able to put in any type of sweetener they want as long as it is deemed safe and suitable and this would include artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, etc. They then give their written reasons for their desire to do this, in other words, they make their case for it in a Statement of Grounds:
Promoting more healthful eating practices and decreasing childhood obesity is one of the most pressing problems facing our country today. One small but valuable step towards achieving that goal would be to update the FDA’s standard of identify for “milk” to include flavored milk (e.g., chocolate milk) that is sweetened with any “safe and suitable” sweetener, not just with sugar or other nutritive sweetener. Milk is a nutritious beverage and the leading source of calcium. The Dietary Guidelines have recommended increased milk consumption by children and teenagers. Yet, consumption of milk in schools in declining. Studies have shown that school-age children are more likely to consume flavored milk over regular milk, so if the downward trend in milk consumption in schools is to be reversed, there need to be better options available for lower calorie flavored milk. This can be readily achieved by providing milk producers the option of using any “safe and suitable” sweetener in flavored milk—and still call the product “milk.” The FDA has already updated the ice cream standard for just this very purpose. Doing the same for milk would: (a) incorporate into the standard the ability to use several new sweeteners that have been approved by the FDA since the milk standard of identity was promulgated; (b) promote the public health by provi ding for a lower calorie, nutritious food consumed largely by children; (c) and meet the laudatory goals of several new legislative initiatives aimed at improving the nutrition and health profile of food served in our nation’s schools.
Finally, updating the food standard of identify for “milk” in this way would promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of milk consumers by facilitating the sale of flavored milk containing less sugar and fewer calories from sweeteners than the flavored products currently labeled as “milk.”
The IDFA and NMPF are basically saying that the proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products. School children are routinely offered a choice of regular or flavored milk, usually chocolate, and they are more likely to pick the flavored variety, which has a lot of added sugar. But, if you gave them another option that said “Reduced Sugar Chocolate Milk” or “Reduced-Calorie Chocolate Milk,” well, what school kid would opt for that? Their point, then, is that if they could put in the artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K, neotame, or saccharin, all of which are already widely used in the beverage industry, without having to make a big deal out of it and call it something other than milk, children would consume less sugar. They have a point. And such changes werealready made concerning ice cream. But, of course, the children would be consuming artificial sweeteners.
To make it abundantly clear, the dairy industry is not interested in putting artificial sweeteners into milk that isn’t sweetened, i.e. regular milk, which has its own natural sugar, lactose, but has no added sugar. There is no motivation for them to do this. It would taste weird. Milk is milk. We like our milk the way it is. They know this. That is not the issue. They want to be able to put these sweeteners into flavored milk products which have added nutritive sweeteners, like sugar, or corn syrup. Usually high fructose corn syrup, because its cheaper and sweeter. And yes, in a sense, they want to sneak it in as such a chocolate milk product would still just be called chocolate milk. See the image above for an idea of how the labels would change. I got this image from the FDA.
So, the product could contain an artificial sweetener but still be called just plain old chocolate milk or whatever flavored milk it was. But they would, of course, have to list the artificial sweetener used in the ingredients listing. And that, my friends, is the low-down. Now comes the time when I start shouting (in all caps). When someone tells you that a food industry is trying to be sneaky by not saying something on a food label they are almost always talking about the FRONT of the label. If you are savvy about food labels you NEVER GO BY THE FRONT LABEL ALONE. You always check the back where ALL THE REAL INFO EXISTS. If you have opinions on this petition, and would like to tell the FDA that opinion: FDA Wants Your Opinion on Dairy-Product Labels You might also want to read about the new FDA proposed updates to food labels.