Last Day to Submit Comments on Labeling Artificial Sweeteners in Milk

May 20, 2013

Currently, the USDA requires dairy producers to clearly label on the front of a milk container when the milk contains artificial sweeteners. Now the dairy industry is looking to get rid of that label — a change that has big implications for school food service and student health.

One of the key items in a healthy school lunch, as mandated by the National School Lunch Program, is a carton of milk. Currently, the USDA requires dairy producers to clearly label on the front of a milk container when the milk contains artificial sweeteners. Now the dairy industry is looking to get rid of that label — a change that has big implications for school food service and student health.

“Most people don’t read labels all that closely and don’t know all the different names for artificial sweeteners,” says Sheilah Davidson of School Food FOCUS. “If you have to dig through that, you’re much less likely to be aware of what you’re putting into your body.”

Matters of labeling affect everyone, from parents to school food service directors to the students themselves, because when ingredients they wish to avoid are listed only in fine print, it becomes more difficult to make healthy choices.

Davidson notes that there are plenty of studies around artificial sweeteners and their effects, and that the link between artificial sweeteners and a detriment to health is ultimately inconclusive. But there is enough controversy around these sweeteners that it is advisable to err on the side of caution, and, as Davidson puts it, “not use our kids as lab rats.”

One of the key contentions the dairy industry is using to promote the new labeling standards is that they want to make sure that students still drink milk. But even with the recently-passed school meal standards (and the current draft of the USDA’s competitive foods standard), there is no actual federal restrictions to include artificial sweeteners in flavored milk. The issue here is: the dairy industry doesn’t want to tell people up front that that they’ve sweetened your milk with artificial sweeteners.

This is simply not good, transparent policy. We believe all consumers deserve a clear indication of what is in the food we are consuming. If milk includes artificial sweeteners, we should be informed so we can make clear decisions about what our children are consuming.

School Food FOCUS is encouraging readers to write comments to the USDA on this important issue. More than 29 organizations have signed on to a model comment letter which can be used for submission, although Davidson and her team encourage those making comments to use whatever language they would like, or attach the letter with a note of support and endorsement of School Food FOCUS’ position.

The dairy industry will have many influential voices out there advocating for this label change, making it all the more important to encourage as many voices as possible to speak in opposition and stand up for healthier students and healthier schools. The deadline for comments is tomorrow, Tuesday, May 21st, so act quickly to make sure your voice is heard!