Aspartame in Milk and Food Dyes: Two Food Petitions Catching Fire

by Bettina Elias Siegel on March 7, 2013

No one knows better than I the tremendous potential power of an online petition to bring about needed changes in our food supply.  And now, just a day after the one-year anniversary of the launch of my “pink slime in school food” petition, it’s gratifying to report that two important new food petitions are catching fire.

Natural Food Dyes Overseas, Artificial Dyes Over Here

First, as you already know if you’re a follower of TLT’s Facebook page, Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food and Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, have just launched a Change.org petition asking Kraft to ditch two artificial yellow food dyes in its iconic mac n’ cheese product, dyes the company has already abandoned overseas in favor of natural food-based colorants.  This is an issue we’ve discussed in the past on The Lunch Tray and it has always bothered me a great deal — in fact, I even mentioned in one post that I hoped someone would start a petition about it!  It’s one thing for a company to protest that it can’t find a way to change its formula in favor of more healthful ingredients, but it’s quite another thing when the company has already amply demonstrated the ability to do so.

Well, the good news is that many of you clearly feel the same way.  In less than two full days, the petition (as of this writing) has garnered almost 50,000 signatures and is starting to get some media coverage.  Even if you’re not a consumer of this particular Kraft product (I’ve never bought a box), you can be sure that, if successful, this petition will get the attention of other multinational food corporations engaging in the same practices with respect to food dyes.  So please take a moment and sign here.

And for some encouraging news about the growing use of natural versus artificial food dyes worldwide, please take a look at TLT friend Robyn O’Brien’s latest column on that topic.

Aspartame and Milk Products, Including School Cafeteria Flavored Milk

The Lunch Tray was apparently one of the first outlets to report last month on a new dairy industry plan to add aspartame and other artificial sweeteners to milk and 17 other dairy products without the prominent front label disclosures (“reduced sugar,” “diet,” “reduced calorie,” etc.) presently required by the FDA.

milk dye montage

Aspartame in milk, questionable food dyes? No thanks!

This idea deeply troubles me as a consumer, as few of us expect to find artificial sweeteners in such products and are therefore less likely, without a front label cue, to search the ingredient listings for them.

But far more importantly, this plan upsets me as a parent of public school kids.  As I reported last week, over 430 million gallons of milk were distributed in American schools in2005-2006, and much of that milk is flavored.  The dairy industry apparently feels that the “reduced calorie” designation is a turn-off for kids and so far it hasn’t been particularly aggressive in marketing artificially flavored sweetened milk.  But if FDA grants the industry’s request to drop the front-label descriptor, it seems likely that aspartame-containing flavored milk will be in schools everywhere and without parental oversight (how many parents are in the lunch room to read the ingredient listing on their kid’s milk carton?).

Totally apart from questions about the safety of asparatame, there are legitimate reasons (outlined in my prior post) to be concerned about offering it on a widespread basis to American school children.  If you share that concern, please join almost 100,000 people who’ve already signed a petition launched by Sum of Us protesting the dairy industry’s request.  (In my opinion, this petition isn’t ideal:  the real issue here is not the use of aspartame in milk per se, something already permitted by law, but the lack of front labeling disclosure.  The petition fails to make this distinction but, still, it gets the point across to FDA and that’s what matters.)

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of these two petitions as warranted.  In the meantime, please also consider reposting these two petition links on your own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to spread the word.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

mara March 7, 2013 at 11:43 am

At first I wasn’t so excited about the food dye petition until I actually read it – Good grief – can’t believe what manufactures are putting in the food and even if I choose a diff alternative for my kids that stuff just shouldn’t be on the market. Petroleum based, Carcenogen – that scared me!

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Bettina Elias Siegel March 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Mara: I can’t independently verify some of their concerns about these dyes, but my overall preference is for natural vs. petroleum-based on a better-safe-than-sorry rationale.

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Paul March 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I don’t understand the dairy industry’s logic that children are turned off by the “reduced sugar” designation. It has been my experience that children are not avid label readers. The only consumer decision I have seen is which color carton to grab (Red = Whole milk, Blue = Skim, Brown = chocolate, Pink = strawberry).

Also, if the milk is already in the school, it means the schools have purchased it. Milk is usually included in the cost of a school meal, and kids will take it, and then throw it out. So, why hide a label on a guaranteed sale?

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mommm!!!! March 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I resent anything being put in the milk at all. So perhaps I’m not the best person to be having this conversation lol! BUT! I will say that the kids are overwhelmingly choosing the chocolate milk anyway, which is loaded with high fructose corn syrup AND ounce for ounce it actually has MORE hfcs than a Coke. At least it did the last time I checked. We didn’t have the option of chocolate milk when I was in school and I don’t know why it’s being offered today. I would like to see the chocolate milk go away altogether as well as being opposed to any additives in the milk at all. And I signed both petitions at their onset. In my opinion, the less chemicals in our food the better regardless of whether or not it’s dyes, preservatives, sweeteners, etc. I think their all important.

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Chris March 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I don’t drink milk – can’t stand the texture and coating feeling. BUT I am mortified at the potential for hidden aspartame. I am allergic to aspartame and do use milk in cooking. Aspartame give me horrible migraines – I am extremely vigilant now, but even more concerned now.

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Bettina Elias Siegel March 13, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Chris: I agree! I hope you’ll take a second and share your views with the FDA.

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Deborah Cassel May 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

I drank soda pop with aspartame in it for years. I got to the point where I could barely walk, was in pain, and thought I’d soon need a walker to move around. A friend told me it might be the aspartame causing my problems. I thought I’d eliminate it from my beverage consumption and see what happened. Sure enough within weeks, I saw vast improvement and today symptoms are gone. Please for the love of God’s Creations, don’t do this to children or anyone else for that matter. There is absolutely no sense to purposely crippling people!

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