AUSTIN -- As a mother of two growing boys, Becky Peterson buys a lot of milk.
"At least a gallon and a half of regular milk and then two half gallons of chocolate milk a week," she said.
However, Peterson worries the FDA may change what's in it.
The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation are petitioning the FDA to allow artificial sweeteners in milk -- namely chocolate milk and other flavored milks -- which are currently sweetened with sugar, corn syrup or molasses.
Peggy Armstrong with the IDFA said the mission is two-fold:
- Help fight obesity by removing some sugar
- Get people, particularly kids, to drink more milk.
The idea is to replace sugar entirely or add artificial sweeteners along with sugar to make the flavored milks healthier.
"The standards of milk had not been updated for a couple of decades," said Peggy Armstrong is the Vice President of Communications for the IDFA. "This petition was filed with the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents dairy farmers and they are very much in support of this petition too."
Part of the change will also make it tougher to know what you're buying. Producers will no longer be required to label products on the front ‘low calorie,’ ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘low fat’. The only way you'll know artificial sweeteners are added is if you specifically look for them in the ingredient list on the back.
Look at the label change here.
"People don't read labels like they're supposed to. You know people are busy. It is milk. They grab it, they think it's wholesome. It's dairy. It's what you're supposed to have," said Peterson.
The dairy organizations argue the labeling change is needed because kids won't choose milk with 'low fat' labels. The Defenders asked if they have studies to prove that.
"We don't,” said Armstrong. “When we filed the petition, we did mention that, but that's because that's what we were hearing from some of our member companies. It was more anecdotal information."
Dairy Farmer weighs in
In McGregor, third generation dairyman Craig Miller prides himself on keeping milk pure. A father himself, Miller is not in favor of adding artificial sweeteners to milk.
"I think it's a lot like the cigarette companies selling nicotine to children," said Miller.
The 180 cows at his Mill-King Market & Creamery graze in fields all day everyday. They get milked twice a day, and then that milk is processed right there on site.
"We add nothing -- no additives, no hormones, no GMO’s. It is as it comes," said Miller.
The dairy organizations argue there's room for everyone. Consumers will still have a choice. Organic milk will not contain artificial sweeteners, and dairies like Mill King Market Creamery can still sell their milk the same way.
The IDFA and the NMPF said the only artificial sweeteners that will be added are the ones the FDA deems safe:
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
- Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low)
Conflicting information on safety from government
However, a 2007 USDA report advised against allowing artificial sweeteners in foods sold in elementary school vending machines citing specific concerns "about long-term use and low-level exposure effects on the health and development of children."
In 2007, the National Standards for Foods in Schools included language that said no beverages could contain artificial sweeteners.
The latest 2012 standards make no mention of artificial sweeteners.
"It's just one more way for them to sneak things in," said Deirdra Earls, a registered dietitian. "Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, are known neurotoxins, and so things they've been long associated with are headaches, migraines, seizures.”
And instead of fighting obesity, Earls said artificially sweetened products may do just the opposite.
"The idea is that it actually stimulates hunger instead of repressing appetite," she said.
17 other dairy products involved in change
Milk isn't the only dairy product targeted. The petition will also change the definition of 17 other dairy products -- like half and half, sour cream, even yogurt -- many foods parents, like Becky, feed their children.
"I don't think that's good," Becky said.
Weigh in on petition
The FDA is taking public comments through Tuesday, May 21. If you’re interested in weighing in, you can do so here online or call the FDA at (240) 402-2371.
You can read the petition here.
Regardless of the outcome of this petition, organic milk and milk from the Mill-King Market & Creamery will not add these artificial sweeteners. (The Mill-King Market & Creamery does sell its dairy products at several Austin area farmers markets: SFC Sunset Valley Farmer Market, SFC Downtown Farmer Market, and Cedar Park Farm to Market. On Sundays we are at Lone Star Farmers Market in Bee Cave, HOPE farmer Market, and Mueller Farm to Market.)
Ice Cream recently got permission to add artificial sweeteners
The FDA recently amended the ice cream standard to include any "safe and suitable sweetener." However, the agency also required that non-nutritive sweeteners used in the products be declared as part of the name of the ice cream i.e. "reduced fat ice cream sweetened with aspartame") for a period of three years to make consumer aware that these non-nutritive sweeteners have been added.
Ways to avoid artificially sweetened foods
The Environmental Working Group has these suggestions for people who want to avoid artificially sweetened foods and/or dairy products:
1. Read the label. Always read ingredient labels and avoid products that have too many chemicals you've never heard of, or a really, really long list. Go simple when you can.
2. Go organic. Organic milk is not produced with pesticides or added hormones. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame are not allowed.
3. Plain is best. Skip the flavored milk, if possible, or allow it only as a special treat. Some flavored milks can contain as much sugar as half a dozen cookies.
4. Go for plain or unsweetened yogurts and cottage cheeses. Skip flavored, "light" and "lite" yogurts. They are often loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives. Instead, add fresh fruit to your plain yogurt or cottage cheese.
5. Lactose intolerant? Dairy isn't the only good source of calcium - try calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans or tofu. Unsweetened, fortified organic soymilk, coconut, almond, hemp and flax milk can also be good choices. Talk to your doctor about trying lactase enzymes. Be sure to read labels to make sure you're getting good nutrition for your family. And, stay away from products with added sugars.
More information on artificial sweeteners