Changing the Definition of Milk to “Help” Consumers

So, this came across my screen today:

Flavored Milk; Petition to Amend the Standard of Identity for Milk and 17 Additional Dairy Products

A Proposed Rule by the Food and Drug Administration on 02/20/2013


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing that the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have filed a petition requesting that the Agency amend the standard of identity for milk and 17 other dairy products to provide for the use of any safe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient. FDA is issuing this notice to request comments, data, and information about the issues presented in the petition.”

You can, and should, read the whole thing here:

The dairy industry just wants to help you! You, as a consumer, are just too stupid to know  that there’s sugar in milk (and this is what the petition says, not me), and so they just want to make it easier for you to make completely uninformed choices.  Because, educating consumers…well, that’s just silly.

There are so many things wrong with the propose amendment that I am only going to have time to cover a few:

1. Children don’t like the label “Reduced Calorie.”  It is not the FDA’s job to market to children, so it isn’t their job to come up with a definition of food that makes kids want to eat more of it. It’s their job to monitor food safety and quality. If children have a problem with “reduced calorie,” education of both children and parents, not re-labeling for better marketing, is a far more ethical way to deal with that issue.  And, it’s been proven to work.

2. “Safe” sweeteners. No one thing is “safe” for everyone. People have allergies, medication interactions, and other issues that can make what is “safe” for one person a life-threatening issue for another.  Having unlisted ingredients on any product is a safety hazard; but, especially in a product like milk, where the only ingredient ought to be “Milk,” it’s a large and irresponsible safety risk. Those with allergies, or their parents, would have no reason to suspect added hidden or new ingredients in what is supposed to be a whole food (would you look for aspartame in an apple? a green pepper?), and because these ingredients  can be listed as many different things (or, not listed at all, depending what they are and how much of them is present), they would have a difficult time finding out that they were present.

This would, of course, disproportionately impact the poor, especially children who receive free or reduced lunches and breakfasts through school, which almost always include milk. These parents and children often do not have the resources to research hidden ingredients, or access to news that they are now being added to a food that is generally considered a “whole” food.

3. Promoting good eating habits and reducing childhood obesity.  Yes, I can definitely see how including more processed additives to a whole food is going to promote good eating. Wait..what? No, no I can’t.  Added processed ingredients and sweeteners are part of what has gotten us in this mess in the first place.  That children are more likely to drink sweeter milk is no shock. The shock is that we keep giving it to them. Kids are also more likely to not do their homework, not take their bath, not do their chores, and not clean their room if left to their own devices. That is why we have parents and other adults who supervise them.

Also, the whole “kids won’t drink it” line regarding white milk is just wrong. When flavored milk is taken out of schools, milk consumption initially drops, but rebounds quickly.  And, of course, this isn’t just about flavored milk. This is about 17 different dairy products, including yogurt and white milk, having added sugars and artificial sweeteners (you can use the term “non-nutritive” all you want).

4. Consumers don’t know there’s sugar in milk*. This is a straw-man argument. Whether it is true or not has absolutely nothing to do with adding hidden sweeteners to milk and changing the definition of milk to accommodate that. If consumers don’t know there’s lactose in milk, or that lactose is a sugar, then the problem is (again) education. Lack of education isn’t solved by taking choices away from consumers, it’s solved by…well, education.

5.  The proposed amendments to the milk standard of identity would promote honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace and are therefore appropriate under section 401 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  I have no idea how changing an established definition of a whole food to include ingredients that are not naturally found in that food, with the express purpose that the consumer have no indication those ingredients are present, can be seen as “honest and fair dealing.”  Lack of disclosure, bait-and-switch definitions, and pretending it’s all for the “good of the consumer” is pretty much the antithesis of “honest and fair dealing.”

6. 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.”  To be read: consumers are so stupid that they just can’t handle more words on a package, and so it’s just better not to clutter their pretty little heads with all that crazy nutrition talk. The dairy lobby and the FDA should just take that horrible burden off their shoulders by lying and hiding the truth, because blissful ignorance is much better for everyone.

It is not the FDA’s job to treat consumers like 2-year-old children who can’t be trusted to make reasonable decisions without being baby-talked into it. I don’t need to be goo-goo and ga-ga’d at, thanks.

So, why is the dairy industry even doing this?  Are they just concerned for all of us uneducated consumers making poor eating choices for ourselves and our families? No. There are several reasons the industry is lobbying for this amendment: decreasing costs by lowering quality and camouflaging it with cheap additives, and increasing consumption by providing unnaturally sweet dairy products to the public. But, of course, they want to do it under the flag of public health and concern. Don’t let them.

If you are as outraged at this idea as I am, please take a moment and leave a comment on the FDA’s page. Consumers do not have the same money and political leverage as the dairy lobby. All we have are our voices, and they need to be loud and numerous if we want to keep special interests out of our food.

*Citation needed. 


One response to “Changing the Definition of Milk to “Help” Consumers

  • Stacie

    People don’t know that milk has sugar? Really? How dumb do “they” think we are? All you have to do is read the Nutrition Facts label of any milk carton to see the carbs in milk are primarily sugar.

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