The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reportedly received “more than 30,000 comments” in response to its request for information about a petition filed by dairy-industry groups asking the agency to drop special labeling requirements for flavored milks that contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have asked 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 nonnutritive sweeteners are among the standard ingredients,” thus exempting the products from having to make nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” in a more prominent location.

“If we granted the petition, a carton of chocolate milk made with nonnutritive sweeteners would simply say ‘chocolate milk,’ the same as a carton made with nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar,” said FDA Food Labeling and Standards Director Felicia Billingslea. “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.”

According to FDA, the dairy groups give the following reasons for the proposed amendments: (i) “Studies show school-age children are more likely to consume flavored milk than regular milk”; (ii) “Flavored milk labels that bear nutrient content claims such as ‘reduced calorie’ are unattractive to children”; (iii) “The proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity”; and (iv) “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.”

FDA said that it recognizes the importance of this decision and is interested in hearing from the public and industry about the petition, particularly on issues such as: (i) “Will the proposed change in FDA’s milk labeling regulations provide sufficient information for consumers to understand what is in the milk they’re buying?” and (ii) “Will the proposed change in FDA’s milk labeling regulations create an increased burden for consumers who want to know whether a product contains a nutritive or non-nutritive sweetener.”

The public has until May 21, 2013, to submit comments. Additional details about the petition filed by IDFA and the NMPF appear in Issue 472 of this Update.