National Consumers League

New milk rules -- not such a sweet deal for consumers


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By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Since NCL’s founding in 1899, our organization has been dedicated to providing consumers with clear and accurate information that enables them to make informed decisions.  In our work on various food labeling and food safety issues, we follow this same philosophy, and so it was in this frame of mind that we this week commented on a petition from the dairy industry that is pending before FDA. Currently, when a producer substitutes artificial sweetener for sugar in flavored milks, they must indicate this on the front of the product label with a clear statement such as “low calorie.” In an attempt to address the criticisms of nutrition advocates fighting diligently against rising rates of childhood obesity and new school meal standards, producers have reformulated their products to remove sugar, a source of extra calories in chocolate milk.  The natural replacement has been artificial sweeteners.  However, when these companies use artificial sweeteners, they must indicate that they have done so by including statements such as "low calorie" on the front of the package.  The petition before FDA asks that this requirement be removed, arguing that the label discourages children from drinking less caloric, and therefore healthier, products.  Contrary to some reports, these products would still be required to list artificial sweeteners on their ingredient lists. In our formal comments filed earlier this week, NCL came out against implementation of this change.  While we are certainly supportive of encouraging children to consume healthier products, doing so by depriving consumers of information they are accustomed to seeing is misguided.  The “low calorie” statement currently alerts consumers that they need to look at the ingredient list.  Some consumers choose to avoid artificial sweeteners and transparent labeling, on both the front and the back of the package, enables them to make consumption decisions for themselves and their children.