Starting Monday, employees of the Food and Drug Administration who go to work by bus will see giant ads urging the public health agency not to allow aspartame in kids' milk without accompanying labels. Aspartame is already allowed in flavored milk but comes with a note that the milk is "reduced-calorie."
The ads come after the FDA opened up a petition from two dairy industry groups, the National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association, who say the use of aspartame over real sugar can help curb childhood obesity and shouldn't require special labeling. The petition is open for public comment until May 21, and the bus ads will run until that date.
So far, the public seems to be mostly against the idea: more than 116,000 people have since signed a petition against 'diet milk' on SumOfUs.org, the consumer watchdog running the ads, and similar petitions have cropped up on Change.org and Care2.com. Change.org has recently seen a slew of anti-aspartame petitions, which together have more than 22,000 signatures.
Those who signed the aspartame milk labeling petition said they are worried about the health effects of the artificial sweetener – often used in yogurt, diet coke or added to coffee – because it has been variously linked to cancer, neurological issues and overconsumption, among other health issues.
"We are concerned about the fact that aspartame is potentially incredibly dangerous on a number of levels. It shouldn't be hidden in milk," Kaytee Riek, campaign manager for SumOfUs, tells Whispers. "And we want to make sure [this message] gets to FDA employees so we put the ads on a bus at the special stop, directly in front of the FDA."
Consumers – though perhaps not kids – may already be starting to reject aspartame on their own. According to Harry Balzer, vice president at the market research firm NPD Group, nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population today consumes food or drinks that contain sugar substitutes, which is down from 17.5 percent in 2007, in part because of the entrance of all-natural sweeteners such as Stevia.