Internet chatter has exploded this week regarding the Food and Drug Administration's Feb. 20 announcement that it would entertain comments on a proposal to amend the ingredients that could be included in milk without renaming the product.
At the center of the controversy are many consumers concerned that the petition, which was filed nearly four years ago, would allow processors to include aspartame and other non-caloric sweeteners without labeling.
However, the National Milk Producers Federation -- one of the groups filing the petition -- released a statement regarding the concern, clarifying that the petition asks to retain the labeling term "milk" when including artificial sweeteners, and will still require those sweeteners be included on the ingredient list.
"As required by the Food and Drug Administration’s food labeling regulations, all food products that include non-nutritive sweeteners as an ingredient must be clearly labeled and include the name of the sweetener on the package’s ingredient statement," NMPF said in a press statement.
NMPF also explained that, if granted in regards to milk, the petition would not change existing requirements that aspartame, sucralose, or any other non-nutritive sweetener be included in the list of ingredients if it is present.
While non-nutritive sweeteners in "optional characterizing flavoring" – such as chocolate or strawberry – are currently allowed, additional regulations are required. The groups say those additional regulations, which include labeling the product as "reduced calorie," for example, make the milk with fewer calories less attractive to children.
The groups say eliminating those label claims and allowing the product be sold simply as "milk" would allow consumers to more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners.
The new petition, if granted, would also allow similar changes to regulations on acidified milk, cultured milk, sweetened condensed milk, nonfat dry milk, nonfat dry milk fortified with vitamins A and D, evaporated milk, dry cream, heavy cream, light cream, light whipping cream, sour cream, acidified sour cream, eggnog, half-and-half, yogurt, lowfat yogurt and nonfat yogurt.
Rule request geared toward school nutrition changes
In the petition, NMPF and the International Dairy Foods Association say the amendments could also 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, and assist in meeting several initiatives aimed at improving school nutrition.
"The purpose of the petition is to allow milk processors to use safe and suitable sweeteners to reduce the overall carbohydrate content in milk, and still label it 'milk,'" NMPF said.
If the petition were to be implemented, many say the addition of sweeteners would be comparable to a "diet" version of popular drinks. But some consumer sentiment suggests that's another hiccup, too, following ongoing concern that artificial sweeteners are unsafe. The Food and Drug Administration, however, in a 2010 brief on food ingredients and colors, said aspartame "has not been shown to cause adverse or allergic reactions."
Public comments on the proposal are requested by May 21, 2013.