Dairy Industry Seeking to Confuse Your Chocolate Milk Label!

A change to the "standard of identity" of milk and other dairy products will mean that consumers will no longer be alerted to the use of non-nutritive sweeteners by the product name, such as "reduced calorie chocolate milk," the FDA confirms.

Should the "standard of identity" of dairy products include the use of both nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners? The dairy industry thinks so, and is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the change.

A standard of identity is the federal requirement that determines what ingredients some food products must (or may) contain to be marketed under certain names. So, when it comes to chocolate milk, the replacement of a nutritive sweetener (such as sugar) with a non-nutritive sweetener (such as sucralose, acesulfame potassium, or aspartame) reduces calorie count of chocolate milk, requiring labeling to reflect this change. Words such as “reduced calorie” must be prominently displayed on the package to alert consumers to the change in the product from the standard of identity, and the specific name of the sweetener used must be included in the list of ingredients. This labeling can be helpful for someone wanting to watch his/her weight, for example, or if someone wishes to keep track of overall sugar intake, alerting them to the change in the product. However, the FDA has indicated that the dairy industry has submitted a petition to cease making such labeling changes by changing the “standard of identity” for milk, allowing them to label all such milk as simply “chocolate milk,” while still including the specific name of the sweetener used in the list of ingredients.

A petition to make this change was submitted from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and is currently open for public comment until May 21. According to Mary Poos, Ph.D., deputy director of FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, FDA has received more than 30,000 comments on the issue to date. “Based on these comments, we’re seeing a fair amount of confusion about what the labeling change would actually mean,” Poos says.

What the Change Would Mean

In the petition, the IDFA and the NMPF asked the FDA to amend the standard of identity for flavored milk and 17 other dairy products (including nonfat dry milk, heavy cream, eggnog, half-and-half and sour cream) so that non-nutritive sweeteners are among the standard ingredients. This would mean that the products would then not require any additional description on the label. However, the non-nutritive sweeteners would still be listed in the ingredients list on the package. The big drawback for many consumers would be that the name of the product would not alert them to any difference between “chocolate milk” with nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar, or non-nutritive sweeteners. Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA’s Food Labeling and Standards staff, confirmed, “You would need to read the ingredient list, which is typically on the back or the side of the product, in order to tell the difference between the two.”

Why Do Dairy Groups Want the Change?

In their petition, the FDA indicated, the dairy groups give the following reasons for requesting the change in FDA’s regulations:

  • Studies show school-age children are more likely to consume flavored milk than regular milk.
  • Flavored milk labels that bear nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are unattractive to children.
  • The proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity.
  • Updating the standard of identity for milk in this way would promote honesty and fair dealing by creating consistency in the names of flavored milk products.

What Do You Think?

You can submit your comments to the FDA until May 21 at www.regulations.gov. You can search for a rule by its docket number, in this case Docket No. FDA-2009-P-0147.

Image: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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