by Marion Nestle
Apr 22 2013

Food politics makes strange bedfellows, again

Last week, I wrote about the dairy industry’s petition to avoid having to follow FDA rules about labeling artificial sweeteners on the front of milk cartons.

Cara Wilking, Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University points out that the Sugar Association, the trade association for producers of cane and beet sugar, is right on top of this issue.

To assist consumers in making informed choices about what is sweetening the products they purchase, the Sugar Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting changes to labeling regulations on sugar and alternative sweeteners.

In this petition we asked that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols be identified on the front of the package along with the amounts, similar to what is required in Canada.

If it is important to you to know if the product you purchase contains artificial sweeteners, let your congressional representatives know that FDA needs to take action on this important consumer issue.

The Sugar Association, obviously, represents the producers of cane and beet sugar. It wants to sell more sugar.  It doesn’t like artificial sweeteners much.  [Recall: it doesn’t like me much either—go to Media and scroll down to the bottom to read the Sugar Association’s letter threatening to sue me].

In contrast, the dairy industry wants to sell more milk.  Sweetened milk, no matter with what, sells to kids.  School kids are a big market for the dairy industry.  This market, however, is not doing well these days, according to the dairy industry’s August 2012 School Channel Survey.

Schools and processors are realizing 59% of current potential…Milk potential stands at 6.29 milks per student each week…Actual usage is 3.74 milks per student each week.  Elementary schools: 70% of potential being realized, down 1 point Secondary schools: 50%, down 1 point over last year.

Achieving ‘a milk with every meal’ translates into nearly 300 million incremental gallons….

Of course artificial sweeteners should be prominently labeled.  The Sugar Association has this one right.

Whatever your opinion, you can file comments at Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147.


  • This is an interesting one. I think both types of milk should require labels on the front. For the regular chocolate milk, it should say “Contains 6g added sugar per serving” on the front (or however many grams it is), and for the reduced calorie milk, it should say “Contains artificial sweeteners.” That way people are really informed and can see that chocolate milk is a treat like dessert rather than the sort of beverage you should be having every day.

  • J

    Marion – a question to connect this issue with the recent conflict of interest/sponsorship issue: have you noted elsewhere or do you have thoughts on the fact that the National Dairy Council is the new nutrition partner for Feeding America with the goal “to help to fight hunger and promote healthy food choices in food insecure communities”?

  • Howie G

    “Put it on the front label.” This is the new(er) solution to inform the public and reverse people’s bad eating habits. One question though-how big is this front label? Calories, fat, sodium, serving sizes, sugars, sugar alcohols, artificial flavors and colors, and the list goes on and on for all the information that various groups and individuals are pushing for front of label prominence. If they all get there way wouldn’t the overload of facts simply overwhelm the consumer causing them to blur over all of it? Where does it start and where does it end? Seems like another silver bullet, unsustainable, not well thought out proposition to me. I’m all about clear disclosure but I also want packages that actually fit in my cupboards-and not a behemoth package with a laundry list of information.

  • Elizabeth O’Neil

    mmmm guessing Milk Sales are down in schools might have something to do with those crazy vending machines filled with crazy items that do absolutely NOTHING nutritional for our children. Or the “other” options offered (juice made from concentrates). When we were growing up it was MILK that’s it, so of course the sales were higher than now.
    Message for the schools – Quit offering our kids JUNK! Let the parents offer the junk at home.

  • In the world we live in today temptation is all around. We need to make sure that the unhealthy aspects are not thrust upon our children or at least encourage them that, in the main, natural is better.

  • TR

    These products belong in the marketplace to be sold there.
    Schools are not a marketplace. If people want these junkfood products, they can go to the store to buy them there.
    Attempting to market these products in schools is lecherous behaviour. Children are sent to school to learn, not to be preyed upon.

  • kitchenbitty

    I agree w/Howie…I am for disclosure too but I hadn’t really thought about the size of the package to hold all the info that needs to go on the “front label”. Obesity is a serious issue that needs a solution, not finger pointing and blame. Change is hardly accepted well especially as can be noted when it hits in the old pocket book. Eating healthy is costly due to the needed vegetables and fruits, and they ain’t cheap. There is so much red tape involved with providing the needed nutrition to school meals and the ingredients don’t come cheap. The cost of a meal influences how many workers can be paid, how much food can be purchased, and if it can be prepared from scratch to make it healthier than processed. Taxes and commodities pay for this, and parents don’t want to pay more for a school meal. No quick fix!
    Just my opinion.