FDA tries to quell public uproar over milk label petition

In February, the FDA released a notice explaining a petition asking to end a requirement to have “low calorie” or “reduced calorie” labels prominently displayed on milk products that contain artificial sweeteners. The milk industry claims the labels could have the unintended effect of discouraging children from trying healthier milk products.

The petition from International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation are asking to nix the notification on the front of the package, and instead require that the artificial sweeteners only remain listed on a products’ ingredients list.

But the FDA said consumers are getting the mistaken impression that the comment request means the agency is not only moving forward with the rules, but that it would allow milk companies to hide the artificial sweeteners in their products.

“People commenting in response to the Federal Register notice appear to be under the impression that the non-nutritive sweeteners will not be listed anywhere on the product — which is not the case,” the agency wrote on Monday. “They would still be named in the ingredients list on the package.”

The FDA has received more than 33,000 comments on the petition. While only only 192 have been made public, many accuse the government of trying to hide nutritional information from discerning consumers.

The milk industry has long argued that advertising reduced-calorie flavored milk is a turn-off to young consumers.

Consumer groups oppose the industry's effort, arguing that artificial “hyper-sweeteners” are linked to childhood obesity and should be prominently listed on the labels.

On Monday, the FDA asked for public input on whether the revised milk labels would provide enough information to consumers. The FDA also requested comment on whether the prominent “low-calorie” labeling affects what kinds of milk children ask parents to buy, as the industry argues.

“The FDA recognizes the importance of this decision and is interested in hearing from the public and industry on the petition,” said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA’s Food Labeling and Standards staff, in a statement.

Comments are due by May 21.

This post was updated on April 16 to correct inaccuracies. The FDA has not released a proposed rule regarding a label change and is only seeking public input about the petition.