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Should aspartame sweetened milk still be called milk?

The dairy industry has petitioned the FDA to change its definition of milk in an effort to avoid having to label milk containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame as "reduced calorie" or "less sugar" on the front of the package.

It's hard for me to imagine that milk sales are on the decline with how my 1 and 3-year-old drink milk – they go through it quickly and usually ask for more. But I can see how plain white milk might eventually be a tough sell.

The highly nutritious drink has a lot of competition from alternatives such as soy, almond, and rice milks, and other beverages in general – juice, soda, and water.

So now, the dairy industry has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to drop special labeling requirements for chocolate and other flavored milks that contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Currently, those products must say "reduced calorie" or "less sugar" on the front of the packaging. Otherwise, they can't be called milk.

In the petition to the FDA, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation say "nutrient content claims such as "reduced calorie" are not attractive to children." They also state that lower-calorie flavored milk would particularly benefit school children who are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school.

Some school districts have banned flavored milk because of its high sugar content, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and District of Columbia.

The industry argues the change would help it compete more effectively with flavored waters and other beverages that face less-stringent labeling rules. The artificial sweeteners would only then be listed on the back under the ingredients.

Not everyone thinks the proposed change has the best interest of kids in mind. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition from the consumer advocacy organizations entitled: "Do not allow milk and dairy products to include aspartame or other artificial sweeteners." They consider the move by the industry to be deceptive since some people try to avoid consuming artificial sweeteners. The FDA has found artificial sweeteners such as aspartame safe for use, but its safety is a continuing area of research.

The FDA is currently taking public comment on the industry's proposal until May 21. What do you think? Should milk sweetened with aspartame simply be called milk?

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