In the News: Is Aspartame Hidden in Milk?!?

In the News: Is Aspartame Hidden in Milk?!?

April 23, 2013

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Have you heard about the dairy industry plan to add aspartame to milk (as well as other products)? We were clued in by our friend Bettina Elias Siegel at The Lunch Tray and quickly signed on to her open letter to the FDA asking them to deny the request.

Basically the dairy industry is currently petitioning the FDA to be able to put sweeteners into dairy products without labeling them. As Bettina points out, “Not only will it confuse consumers in the supermarket, it’s very likely to result in the increased consumption of potentially questionable artificial sweeteners by millions of American school children – without their parents’ knowledge.”

In an effort to understand this petition, we reached out to Roberta R. Friedman, ScM, Director of Public Policy at Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University with a few questions. Here are her answers.

1. What are the basics here?

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) filed a citizen’s petition with the FDA—which any person or company can do—seeking to amend the standards of identity (the federally mandated requirements that determine what a food product must contain to be marketed under a certain name in interstate commerce) for milk and 17 other dairy products. If granted, the petition would allow the use of artificial sweeteners in these products without requiring the appearance of the “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie” label on the front of the package, as currently required by FDA regulations…in products such as flavored milks (sold and served in schools).

 2. We tend to be anti anything artificial. What’s so bad about aspartame and artificial sweeteners for growing bodies?

We are concerned about promoting overly sweetened beverages to children because of the possibility of establishing an expected level of sweetness for children. Healthful, non-sweetened milk might not be as appealing if sweetened milks become”regular.” There have already been significant reductions by the industry in the amount of sugar added to flavored milks. This was in response to standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (the federal legislation concerning schools foods), so there is no need to add artificial sweeteners to make sure children are drinking more milk. While there is no scientific evidence that artificial sweeteners are bad for growing bodies, parents do say that they are concerned about them for their children.

3. No scientific evidence?

While we know that there is great controversy about children’s use of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS), we’ve found the evidence to be inconclusive. Even the American Cancer Society states, for example, that there’s no conclusive evidence of a link between aspartame and cancer, and that expert organizations have declared it safe for use. The American Academy of
Pediatrics says that non-nutritive sweeteners haven’t been adequately studied for use in children, so, again, there’s no conclusive evidence of harm. The AAP does, however, recommend that NNS’s not form a significant part of a child’s diet.

4. More reasons to adopt the precautionary principle! So, what other dairy products are involved? And is it just for school lunch dairy?

Other products include nonfat dried milk, yogurt, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, eggnog, and whipping cream. No, the petition is not just for school lunch dairy.

 5. If this passes, is it just for flavored milk or could it be for plain milk, too?

It would not be for plain milk, which by definition wouldn’t have added sugar or other sweeteners in it.

 6. How can parents get involved?

Parents can talk to the food service directors at their children’s schools and let them know that if this petition is granted and the industry begins to add artificial sweeteners without labeling the package, they do not want these beverages sold or served in their schools.  They can also ask their Boards of Education to pass a policy that prohibits the use of artificial sweeteners in beverages in their schools. This could be added to nutrition standards established in their school wellness policies, or as a stand-alone policy.

Parents can also submit comments on the FDA’s website between now and May 21st. In addition, they can sign an online petition protesting the dairy industry’s plan.

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