Aspartame In Milk: Dairy Industry Seeks Approval To Drop Label For Artificial Sweeteners

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Got diet milk? The dairy industry for the past three years has been hoping to sell you some under the guise of just plain "milk," so that chocolate and strawberry varieties that contain artificial sweeteners would no longer need to carry a special label.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged a 2009 petition from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation that seeks to drop the FDA requirement to label milk and other dairy products as "artificially sweetened" when they contain sweeteners such as aspartame.

The FDA asked the public to submit data, information and comments related to aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in milk last week.

The agency currently lets the dairy industry use the unmodified "milk" label for unsweetened milk or milk that contains sweeteners with calories, like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Aspartame is used in a range of products, including diet soda and yogurt, and is sold to consumers under the brand-name Equal (which also includes some other ingredients). Some researchers have found that artificial sweeteners alter people's brain chemistry, making them crave higher-calorie foods, which in turn makes them more prone to obesity and diabetes.

The dairy lobby argues the opposite, claiming that allowing aspartame in milk would make it a healthier product and reduce childhood obesity by offering milk with fewer calories.

The move comes as milk's popularity is in serious decline and other beverages, including soy and rice milk, take on more market share.

If history is any indication, the dairy lobby may get its way; it's a powerful force on Capitol Hill, according to Mother Jones.

CORRECTION: This post initially reported that the dairy industry was asking the FDA for permission to include artificial sweeteners in milk. The article has been updated to reflect that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners already are allowed in milk. The FDA simply requires the front of the label to note that the milk is artificially sweetened.

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