AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of an investigative report on GENYOUth, which began with USDA contacting National Dairy Council in Sept. 2009, National Dairy Council contacting National Football League in 2009/10 and an official signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NDC and NFL with USDA in February 2011.
By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, January 18, 2019
They call it “the dairy farmers’ youth wellness program,” but GENYOUth is under the thumb of USDA with some questionable corporate alliances and trends underway.
This multi-part series looks at GENYOUth’s founding, its alliances, its mixed-messages, intended and unintended consequences, its partners and the new alternative products they are and will be introducing into the nutritional vacuum paved by low-fat and fat-free promotion, the winners and losers, and the impact on our dairy farms, and our children.
Let’s pick up where we left off from last week’s Part One.
Helping America’s youth lead better and healthier lives is a worthy pursuit, and there is no intention here to blame good-hearted people trying to do good within the straight-jacket of USDA control. What is being questioned is the direction. What is being exposed is the roots of the oak tree and its impact on our dairy farms and our children.
The problem with the GENYOUth model is that it is primarily funded by mandatory dairy check-off dollars and the government control of it.
The anti-animal and environmental NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) are driving decisions by Big Food, Big Ag, Big Government (and the World Health Organization). And there are new billionaire corporate “sustainability” alliances poised to profit on this main course, while dairy farmer GENYOUth “founders” hope for crumbs.
GENYOUth began in 2010 as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between National Dairy Council and National Football League with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services. This six-way MOU was officially signed on Feb. 4, 2011 during the Superbowl that year (below).
According to Guidestar, the non-profit is listed under the name Youth Improved Incorporated (aka GENYOUth) with the tagline ‘exercise your influence.’ It refers to itself as an NGO. (NGO is defined as “a nonprofit organization that operates independently of any government, typically one whose purpose is to address a social or political issue.”)
GENYOUth was launched to increase physical activity among schoolchildren as well as to encourage healthy eating with emphasis on school breakfast and then mobile breakfast carts. The 2014 (most recent) progress report noted that 73,000 schools and 38 million children had been reached by Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60), affecting the health and wellness of an estimated 14 million students’.
The only reference to dairy in the FUTP60 message pounded home about fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy.
A year ago at a bank meeting in front of 500 farmers, then U.S. House Ag Committee vice chair G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania said he wanted his healthy school milk bill to bring the standard up to 2% or whole milk, but, he said “producers and processors came to me and told me to go slow, to keep it at 1% and take baby-steps.”
Who were the “producers” and “processors” coming to him with that request? National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the check-off MOU under the thumb of USDA.
Those same entities then turn around and tell grassroots farmers that they are forced to work within the confines of what USDA will allow. And so, the circular argument continues. Round and round we go.
Which brings us back to the Nov. 27, 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City and the Vanguard Award to PepsiCo.
PepsiCo has been a GENYOUth partner for seven years. In 2018, PepsiCo not only paid its “hero” sponsorship of $150,000 for the event, they gave an additional $1 million for the purchase of 45 additional mobile breakfast carts and the Espanol version of FUTP60.
According to the only piece of the 2011 MOU that can be found, the NFL, NDC, and GENYOUth have agreed not to use FUTP60 “as a vehicle to sell or promote products or services.” But it is clear that the NFL and other corporate partners, like Pepsi, have brand recognition.
How is dairy’s brand recognized? Hats are tipped at the Gala to “America’s dairy farmers” as the founders who launched the platform. But they are hog-tied by generic promotion and exclusion of the full nutritional value of their product — whole milk, real butter and real cheese — within the government straight-jacket.
GENYOUth was created while Tom Vilsack was Secretary of Agriculture (below). According to cross-posted blog entries between DMI and USDA near the end of 2009: “The USDA discussed in September (2009) a plan to develop the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USDA, the NFL and DMI to allow USDA programs and Fuel Up to Play 60 to collaborate and collectively tackle the critical issue of children’s health.”
When former President Bill Clinton was invited to speak about Vilsack at the 2017 Gala where Vilsack was presented with the 2017 Vanguard Award, Clinton, a vegan, talked about every entity in the “diverse partnership” that he was celebrating — except for America’s dairy farmers.
He talked about how children receive 40 to 60% of their calories from drinks in school. He talked about turning the obesity epidemic around by everyone taking responsibility in that area. He talked about how Vilsack’s leadership with Michelle Obama, made beverages and snacks abide by the fat-free rules, including school vending machines. He talked about how Vilsack was instrumental “under the radar… working for a healthier generation of kids before coming to USDA and before the launch of GENYOUth.”
Meanwhile, the more the government’s direction squeezes healthy fat from the diet, the more the obesity figures in children continue to grow.
This year, at the 2018 Gala, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick thanked each partner. “We give a heartfelt thank you to our founding partners America’s dairy farmers and the National Football League and the players association,” said Glick in a YouTube video of the November Gala. She had previously thanked longtime partners Land O’Lakes and Domino’s while also acknowledging Mike and Sue McCloskey (fairlife) as well as Leprino and Schreiber.
“I say to our farmers: You had a dream. And we have been blessed to be part of that dream. You gave us life. You believed in us. And can you believe we are standing here today on the cusp of the 10-year anniversary of FUTP60?” she said.
“And we extend an extra special thank you to PepsiCo,” Glick continued. “The generosity of your vision, your resources, your team, time and talent have changed our organization.”
In accepting the Vanguard Award on behalf of PepsiCo, CEO Albert Carey said: “We’ve had a wonderful partnership with the NFL over the years… doing things together like the Pepsi half-time show and Gatorade sidelines. We have had ads and retail programs for both of our brands,” he said.
“But the one NFL program our team noticed probably 10 years ago, or maybe 9 years ago, is one we have admired and wanted to be part of and that was Play 60,” said Carey, careful not to include the Fuel Up (dairy) part of the Play 60 tagline.
Carey said “you guys are doing a fantastic job inspiring kids… using football role models.”
He went on to say that PepsiCo wanted to be part of the program because of the importance of kids being active.
“But we also believe at PepsiCo that we need to provide healthy products for our consumers,” said Carey. “Some of you may be familiar with our mission ‘performance with purpose.’”
He described this as “getting great business performance while also serving others… on the part of the environment… or many other ways, but this one particular way is about providing healthier foods for our consumers.”
Carey said he thought PepsiCo had done a pretty good job at this over the past several years, “but we haven’t talked about it much. You see some obvious things like Pepsi zero sugar, Gatorade Zero,” he said. “But you don’t hear much about Bubbly Sparkling Water, Life Water, Quaker oat milk, and we just bought a company called Bare Snacks and our Kevita Kombucha products (probiotic drinks).”
He mentioned that the Quaker oat beverage, which he personally called “oat milk” but in reality this product is labeled “oat beverage for cereal, smoothies, coffee and more”. It is being launched this month and will be in stores by March.
The PepsiCo website mentions these products as part of the company’s commitment to further the World Health Organization goals of alternative products to reduce saturated fat consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby improving global environmental and nutritional sustainability.
Carey said the “oat milk” and bare snacks and probiotic drinks are part of PepsiCo goal of “converting its portfolio to healthier foods for the future.”
In fact, PepsiCo is also in development of so-called non-dairy ‘cheese’ and ‘yogurt’ snacks through its “Nutrition Greenhouse Accelerator program, including the purchase of Health Warrior, which PepsiCo said in an October 2018 Food and Beverage article “is a nutrition-forward trailblazer that can provide great insight into high value categories and consumers while benefiting from our expertise and resources to bring plant-based nutrition to more people.”
Meanwhile, the GENYOUth program bestowed the 2018 GENYOUth Vanguard Award on PepsiCo for its seven years of partnership and its commitment to give an additional $1 million, which PepsiCo’s Carey said would fund Play 60 in Espanol as well as 45 new mobile school breakfast carts, bringing PepsiCo’s cart total to 100.
It will be interesting to see what may appear on these carts in the future, given the new oat beverage, plant-based probiotic drinks, and other “Nutrition Greenhouse” products emerging in the PepsiCo portfolio.