THE National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) wants the Food & Drug Administration to fix a problem in the planned definition of added sugars on food labels, saying it appears to include dairy products used as food ingredients, even though the lactose — or "milk sugar" — in those products occurs naturally.
Commenting Aug. 1 on FDA's proposed changes to the nutrition facts label, NMPF was basically supportive of FDA's proposal to list added sugars, saying it will clarify the contribution of lactose to dairy products and allow consumers to pinpoint added sweeteners in foods.
However, under FDA's proposed definition, NMPF said the lactose in a tablespoon of nonfat dry milk that's incorporated into another food would count as an "added sugar," while the lactose in a glass of milk would not.
"Surely, that can't be what FDA intends," said Beth Briczinski, NMPF vice president for dairy foods and nutrition. "We assume that this is simply an oversight, since nonfat dry milk is often an ingredient in dairy products like yogurt and ice cream as well as other foods, including baked and processed foods that benefit from added milk solids."
"Either way, this needs to be corrected," Briczinski added.
NMPF offered three specific reasons to exclude lactose-containing dairy ingredients from the definition of added sugars:
1. Unlike typical added sugars, dairy ingredients containing lactose are not used primarily to sweeten foods. In fact, compared with other sugars, lactose is not very sweet (it would take six times the amount of lactose to equal the sweetness level of table sugar). Instead, dairy ingredients like milk powder or whey powder are added to foods for other reasons, like texture and appearance.
2. The federal definitions of many standard dairy products allow for the inclusion of lactose-containing dairy ingredients, like nonfat milk powder, while still allowing the product to be called "unsweetened." Examples include unsweetened yogurt and no-sugar-added ice cream.
3. FDA's proposed definition would likely create confusion since otherwise-identical dairy products would list or not list added sugars, depending on what ingredient was used. For example, a yogurt made with nonfat dry milk would be required to list added sugars, while the same yogurt made solely from skim milk would not need to list any added sugar.
NMPF also used its comments on the proposed revisions to the nutrition facts label to remind FDA that it is allowing manufacturers of imitation dairy products, including soy "milk" and rice "yogurt," to trick consumers into thinking their products are nutritionally equivalent to products from cow's milk.
"The name on a food conveys significant nutritional information," Briczinski said. "Consumers think non-dairy alternatives with the term 'milk' or 'yogurt' in their name are nutritionally the same as real dairy products, but they are not. In addition, allowing these imitations to call themselves 'milk' or 'yogurt' is a clear violation of FDA's own food standards and labeling regulations.
"It's unfortunate that FDA has ignored this blatant misbranding of food products for decades and is now touting its efforts to provide meaningful nutrition information to consumers," Briczinski said.
NMPF also addressed additional aspects of FDA's proposed revisions to the nutrition facts label that need attention.
The group said since the food industry, in recent years, has drastically reduced the trans-fat content of many foods — with a corresponding reduction in trans-fat levels in the American diet — it may no longer be necessary to list trans fats on the nutrition facts label.
"Regardless, ruminant trans-fatty acids, which occur naturally in meat and dairy products, are not the same as added trans fats and should be exempt from the labeling requirement," the group noted.
Additionally, NMPF said dual-column labeling, which is designed to allow consumers to see the nutritional information both per package as well as per serving, doesn't work for some dairy products, including quarts of milk, pints of cottage cheese and dairy foods that are used primarily as ingredients like butter and buttermilk. The group believes those products should be exempted from the requirement.
In separate comments on serving size issues, NMPF supported the idea of reducing a typical serving of yogurt from 8 oz. to 6 oz. and opposed increasing a serving of frozen desserts from a half-cup to a full cup.
"The yogurt change makes sense since it brings the government's measurement in line with packaging found in the marketplace," Briczinski said, but conversely, while FDA is proposing to increase the frozen dessert serving size, consumption of both ice cream and frozen desserts in general has been declining steadily for two decades.
"Consumption data strongly suggest that an increase in the frozen dessert serving size is not warranted," she said.
"Overall, FDA's proposed nutrition facts and serving size changes will have a positive impact," Briczinski said. "They will provide accurate nutrition information to consumers, but a few aspects of the proposals will result in unintended consequences for some dairy foods, and FDA needs to review those aspects and correct them."
The International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA) has joined with Cornell University to offer leadership development opportunities for future leaders in the dairy foods business.
Through its newly launched NextGEN Dairy Network, IDFA will partner with Cornell to provide a series of training opportunities for dairy professionals with fewer than 15 years in the industry.
"As dairy companies continue to grow and their operations evolve, one of the most critical requirements is to create a strong pool of dairy professionals who are prepared to fill senior-level management positions in their companies and in our member organizations," said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and chief executive officer. "Our collaboration with Cornell is an important step towards strengthening the knowledge, skills and leadership abilities of our industry's employees."
The first joint program will be the NextGEN Symposium, which will be held Oct. 6-8 at Cornell. The symposium will feature exposure to the dairy industry from production to processing to supply chain distribution and is designed to enhance personal and professional networking, increase self-awareness and improve leadership skills in a way that can drive change within an organization.
Foremost Farms USA and the Michigan Milk Producers Assn. (MMPA) recently formed a strategic alliance for the purpose of balancing and adding value to their members' milk supplies in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Collectively, the two cooperatives are initially investing nearly $10 million in the region's dairy industry — which they consider a necessary investment to keep pace with the growing dairy production in this area. The strategic alliance will provide greater opportunities for both cooperatives to leverage their respective milk supplies, reduce operating costs and maximize returns for their farmer-members.
Foremost Farms has purchased and is installing reverse osmosis technology at MMPA's Constantine, Mich., milk processing plant. The technology represents Foremost Farms' first physical processing asset in Michigan, and it will concentrate three loads of milk into one by removing water and concentrating the milk solids in order to reduce the cost of long-haul milk transportation by two-thirds.
The installation work began the week of July 28, and the first phase is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
"For the past year, Foremost Farms has been transporting surplus milk from this region back to our own cheese plants in Wisconsin. This has resulted in a tremendous cost burden for our members," Foremost Farms president Dave Fuhrmann said. "This investment allows us to reduce those cost burdens, improve transportation efficiencies, provide market stability for our members' growing milk supply and utilize the milk solids to make cheese."
"Michigan's milk supply is growing at a rate of 3-4% per year, so investing in reverse osmosis equipment at our Constantine plant helps us keep pace with the growing milk production in our region," MMPA general manager Joe Diglio added. "This new venture will also improve efficiencies in transportation and give us more flexibility in the market."