Leaders of two major US dairy industry groups have jointly rejected a suggested federal excise tax on flavoured milk drinks that contain sugar-based sweeteners.

A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, including flavoured milk, was included in a list of revenue options released on Monday by Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. While no rate was specified, a tax of three cents per 12oz could raise as much at US$50bn over ten years, according to a congressional estimate.

Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, and Jerry Kozak, president and CEO at the National Milk Producers Federation, said flavoured milk is part of the solution to the child obesity problem, not a cause, and its consumption needs to be encouraged among kids, not discouraged by a new tax.

“Milk is a nutrient-rich beverage that is good for kids,” said Tipton. “We need to encourage them to drink more and it’s no secret kids love flavoured milk. Processors have developed low-fat flavoured milk options that don’t have excessive calories, but switching to no-calorie sweeteners has proved problematic. Still, flavoured milk is an excellent way to increase milk consumption and make children’s diets more nutritious.”

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the official government diet advice – bolsters the argument for flavoured milk, according to Tipton and Kozak. The guidelines state that adding a small amount of sugar to nutrient-rich foods such as reduced-fat milk enhances their appeal and improves diet without adding excessive calories.

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Likewise, Tipton and Kozak said, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages consumption low-fat or fat-free milk, including flavoured milk, as an alternative soft drink.

“Taxing flavoured milk because it includes a small amount of sugar is penny-wise and pound-foolish, from a nutritional standpoint” said Tipton. “Studies show that low-fat chocolate milk is kids’ nutritious beverage of choice. It would be ridiculous to discourage kids from drinking it.”