WASHINGTON – In response to a newly proposed rule from the US Food and Drug Administration that would recalculate which foods can make a “healthy” claim, the International Dairy Foods Association countered that the proposal limits how dairy labels can convey products’ nutritional benefits. 

The IDFA thinks the proposed rule would restrict or limit dairy foods.

The organization’s senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, Joseph Scimeca, explained the IDFA thinks the proposed FDA rule should establish clear criteria for dairy products “that encourage the consumption of dairy foods while also helping consumers select the options that meet their health, taste and lifestyle needs.”

Scimeca cited data from the federal 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that showed more than 90% of people in the US do not consume enough dairy to meet daily nutritional requirements.

“While the proposed rule takes some positive steps toward encouraging consumption of dairy products to help Americans meet the recommendations of the 2020-2025 DGAs, it falls short in many other important areas by limiting how dairy labels communicate the full nutritional benefits of dairy to consumers,” he said.

In the FDA’s proposed rule, dairy products that make “healthy” claims must meet certain criteria. The proposal covers factors such as total fat, milk fat, added sugars, sodium, calcium, protein and vitamin A, as well as the concept of truthful and not misleading labels.

The IDFA, Scimeca pointed out, is in agreement with the proposal when it comes to setting no limits on total fats. Disagreements exists, though, in other areas, including milk fat.

The IDFA argued for placing no limits on saturated fats when they come from milk fat. The proposed rule, Scimeca said, would prohibit “many nutritious dairy products” from using a “healthy” claim. The IDFA encouraged the FDA to revisit that portion of the rule.

Similarly, the IDFA wants the added sugars component to be reexamined, arguing that “moderate levels of added sugars in dairy products increase palatability, thereby encouraging Americans to consume these nutrient-dense foods.” The proposed rule sets a limit of 55% DV of added sugar per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed – or 2.5 grams of added sugar per serving. The IDFA thinks flavored milk should contain less than 13 grams of added sugar per 8 oz serving and flavored yogurt should be less than 23 grams of total sugar per 6 oz serving.

A sodium limit was set at 10% DV for dairy in the proposed rule, which also mentioned the important functional and food safety uses of salt in cheese. The IDFA countered that a “healthy” claim should take into account how salt plays a “crucial role in the manufacture and ripening of natural and processed cheeses and impacts overall product functionality, integrity, safety and quality.” The IDFA wants the rule “to recognize that cheese is the second highest source of calcium yet contributes less than 4% of the sodium to the diet.”

Scimeca said the IDFA’s current argument regarding “healthy” claims for the dairy food category is the same as it was more than five years ago, when the organization encouraged the FDA to set such criteria.

“The current regulatory definition for a ‘healthy’ claim does not consider the unique nutrient contributions of dairy products but does set different nutrient levels for fruits and vegetables, meat products, seafood and cereal grain products,” he said.

While the IDFA appreciated the FDA’s proposal including dairy as a recommended food group and encouraging dairy consumption, the IDFA’s stance is that the rule “ignores overwhelming nutrition and dietary science demonstrating that dairy is a crucial part of a healthy diet beginning at a very young age,” Scimeca said.

He added: “No other type of food or beverage provides the unique combination of 13 essential nutrients that milk and dairy contribute to the American diet, including high quality protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium, along with the health benefits, including better bone health and lower risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The FDA will accept comments on the proposal up to 90 days after its publication in the Federal Register.