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New and Improved Milk

New and Improved Milk
Angelo Coppola

The Problem

Milk consumption is at a 30-year low, and the dairy industry — like any industry — wants to boost sales. They’d like to experiment with their products in order to make them more appealing to their customers. A reasonable path for most companies…but this milk.WTF? Is this gonna hurt?

Big dairy has found themselves in a situation where they must figure out ways to better compete with other beverage processors for marketshare. Even after skimming all of the fat from milk, there are still enough carbs and proteins to produce about 80 calories per cup. And when they add artificial chocolate and strawberry flavorings — the most popular kinds of milk with children — the calorie count zooms up even further.

This leaves some nutritionists, parents and school administrators shaking their heads — and turning to lower calorie options. Oh, the dilemma!

Let’s talk about why this is a farce…

Proposed Solution

The dairy industry’s big idea is to start adding aspartame to the milk that it sells to schools. You know this stuff by its brand names: NutraSweetTM, EqualTM. Their logic is simply to make milk sweeter without adding calories, so more kids will prefer milk products while adults can feel better about purchasing them, because they are lower in calories.

Now, here’s the really sticky point: they want to do it without any indication on the front-facing label, because kids don’t want “Diet Chocolate Milk,” “Low-calorie Calorie Strawberry Milk,” “Sugarless Artificially Sweetened Milk.” Ewwww.

Children don't like the sounds of "low-calorie." It's a turnoff. - Greg Miller, National Dairy Council

For better or worse, the FDA regulates the claims, labeling, and processing of most foods. Thus, the Dairy Industry has filed a petition for a rule-change that would redefine ‘milk.’

They still want to call their products just plain-old MILK, even if they add aspartame. To be clear, they are not trying to change the regulations that govern the back of the carton. The ingredients list would still note aspartame under the proposed rule changes. Because of this, Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council says,

We are not trying to be sneaky.

They merely want the aspartame containing milk to look identical to non-aspartame containing milk on the front. This way, if a carton of artificially sweetened milk was to be placed right next to pure milk with nothing added, say on a store shelf, there would be no detectable difference. That’s not sneaky at all. Bravo! Cue the slow clap!


Business, Health, and Informed Human Beings

Milk is competing with sodas, artificially sweetened sports drinks, juices and other beverages that are more easily engineered to fit the nutrition guidelines du jour and to fit the flavor profiles that kids want. In a sense they are attempting to level the playing field. The real-life problem is that this real-life playing field IS NOT located in real-life anymore.

We’ve veered so far off course that reality is nearly impossible to grasp.

You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.” — Rod Serling

Now, if you’re wondering whether aspartame is safe, consider this:

FDA officials describe aspartame as “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved” and its safety as “clear cut”. The weight of existing scientific evidence indicates that aspartame is safe as a non-nutritive sweetener. — Wikipedia

OK, fine. Even if we were to accept that at face value, we are still left with homogenized, pasteurized, de-fattened liquid with non-nutritive, artificial sweetener added. How much health-promoting nourishment can survive that process? We haven’t even talked about what’s in the strawberry flavoring yet.

And we will feed this to our children, all in the name of cutting some calories?

The childhood obesity problem is systemically related to our culture and values, commerce and industrialized convenience foods, education, psychological health, environmental toxins, lives that require much less physical activity, etc. Sure calories are part of it…but in this context, calories are merely a distraction from the much bigger, essential problems.

The  only problem the dairy industry is really trying to solve is that of slumping milk sales, not the unhealthy kids our world is producing. They are hoping that we’ll buy into the story that what’s good for boosting their sales also coincidentally happens to be good for kids. Let me ask you this: What if their idea works so well that kids start drinking too much milk? Too many calories (or whatever constitutes ‘too much’ in the mainstream)? Do you think they would try to dial back sales? Never.

Cow. Screw this. I'm outta here.

So, we’re supposed to believe this is a win-win, just like removing removing all, if not most, of the the fat from milk. With that initiative, the story was that kids would consume less fat and the dairy industry could market their products better to decision makers. Of course, this also enabled the dairy industry to sell the milk fat right back to us in the form of expensive butter and cream. See what they did there?

It’s too bad that people aren’t accustomed to starting with a default position of human beings are not broken. In that world, the default position for milk is the same: it’s not broken.

“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but [one that] won’t be able to think.” ― Rod Serling

The bottom line, as always, is that we do have the power to vote with our dollars. If, like me, you have no reason to believe that milk is broken, nor that it needs to be fixed via industrial processes and additives, consider checking out a local dairy (USUK). There, you’ll find real (raw) milk, animals that are better-treated, and dairymen and women who actually care about their end products. I encourage you to support them with your business, as I do.

We certainly have the ability to stay informed and apply pressure, too. Here’s an online petition you can sign:

Hyper-sweet additives like aspartame rewire children’s brains so that they always want sugary foods, turning the kids into tiny consumption machines. This constant craving fattens up the food companies’ bottom lines as it fattens up their customers, leading to our current obesity epidemic.

Tell the FDA to say no to hyper-sweeteners in healthy food. Stop aspartame from entering our milk.

What do you think, friends? Good move, bad move, unavoidable? Some would say the dairy industry is taking the pragmatic approach and to think that we can do better is wishful thinking. Is it? You might also want to share this article using the links below to help expose real-food issues like this to the people in your circles. It’s a good ball to get rolling!

Sources: NPR, KCET, US News, Wikipedia, The Wall Street JournalSumofus

  • MB

    1. The calories-in-calories-out theory is flawed. Wood is very calorie-rich, but eating it won’t get you fat.

    2. There’s nothing wrong with fat in milk, and even more, there’s nothing wrong with milk in general, if you’re able to digest it.

    3. About the comment on new citizenry not able to think, you’re already there, and the rest of the industrialized world is following you. Luckily, there are some movements which might help those who still have a few clear thought in their heads.

  • Wow, and I thought the “permeate-free” marketing hype in Australia was bad… this is just plain wrong!

  • Regardless of any downstream health effects of artificial sweeteners, this is definitely sneaky. I’d even say their proposed marketing strategy is intentionally deceptive. In other words, right on par with most of the big food companies.

    • Yes, and exactly the kind of thing that I’m hoping will make a certain segment of the population take notice. They might not think aspartame is a big deal, but the underhandedness is notable, regardless of one’s views on additives deemed safe by various agencies.

  • kahartke

    Angleo, great post but you did readers a disservice by not quoting the critics of aspartame! Regardless of the govt propaganda, it is one of the most controversial food additives ever approved by the FDA. Please see:

    and the WAPF press release:

    Please don’t ever quote the government sources without a corresponding critic! The misleading information must stop, and only will stop when both sides are revealed. The truth will out!


    • That’s what you and the WAPF are for. 🙂

      My intent wasn’t to talk about the additive itself, but the business practices of the dairy industry in this case. I disagree that this is a disservice.

  • Colleen O’Rourke

    True story: some old roommates of mine brought home a gallon of some “Non-Fat, Extra Creamy!” milk once. I had no idea products like that even existed, so I was perplexed. Suspicious, I read the label, and sure enough saw that it was just regular non-fat milk with thickeners added and–shock of shocks–HFCS.

  • Zander

    Angelo, I wanted to say thank you for providing such great insight with all your podcast and blogs. Very spot on stuff. I consumed all of your podcast much to fast and like an addict now want more… but you’ve moved on to more writing, which is great. I’m looking forward to following you on your new blog and website.

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