Milk could soon contain the controversial sweetener aspartame--and you might not even know it.
According to FederalRegister.gov, the International Dairy Foods Association(IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation(NMPF) have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change the definition of milk and 17 other dairy products "to provide for the use of any safe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient".
"IDFA and NMPF request their proposed amendments to the milk standard of identity to allow optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk (e.g., chocolate flavoring added to milk) to be sweetened with any safe and suitable sweetener—including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame," reads the petition. "IDFA and NMPF state that the proposed amendments would 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 who, according to IDFA and NMPF, are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school."
The petition also seeks to "assist in meeting several initiatives aimed at improving the nutrition and health profile of food served in the nation's schools ... includ[ing] state-level programs designed to limit the quantity of sugar served to children during the school day".
Perhaps the most concerning to some consumers is the petition's argument that milk containing sweeteners should not be on the label.
"IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims," reads the petition. "Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”
Popular urban legend site snopes.com explains the petition differently.
"What this means is not, as has commonly been claimed, that the dairy industry is seeking permission to add artificial sweeteners to milk (they can already do that) or that they are attempting to change the rules so that they don't have to disclose the presence of artificial sweeteners in the ingredients listing on milk containers. What these groups are requesting is that they be allowed to sell milk which includes artificial sweeteners without being required to include prominent food label notices on the packaging describing the product as 'reduced calorie' or 'reduced sugar'."
Either way, some consumers are concerned.
"The fact that they want to add a chemical ingredient to a wholesome product without having to label it is both unethical and immoral," said Fermenti Artisan vendor and raw milk advocate Joshua Henson.
Cara Dafforn of U-Relish agrees.
"Aspartame is neurotoxin," said Dafforn.
According to snopes.com, while aspartame is considered safe at current consumption levels, the neurotoxin production can be dangerous "in certain individuals and in high enough doses". According to Wikipedia, these include people with phenylketonuria (PKU), who should completely avoid aspartame.
The FDA is currently seeking public input on the proposal. Consumers can send their comments through FederalRegister.Gov.