Dairy farmers hear ‘whole’ story: The 97 Milk effort and Pa. State Rep. Lawrence’s new bill
By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Feb. 25, 2022
BERRYSBURG, Pa. — A bill will soon be introduced in the Pennsylvania State House that would allow Pennsylvania schools to offer the choice of whole milk. The author of the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act is Rep. John Lawrence. He circulated a cosponsors letter a few weeks ago.
On Monday, Feb. 21, Lawrence talked about House Bill 2397 at an annual dairy day here at the Berrysburg Community Center in Dauphin County, Pa. The event, attended by over 100 producers and 30 vendors, was hosted by Great Creatures Veterinary Service as a customer appreciation luncheon and workshop.
Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman — initiator of the ‘Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free Baleboards’ — was invited by veterinarian Dr. Joy Lenker to talk about the bale art and the progress of the whole milk education movement.
Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, joined Troutman during his presentation, and they introduced Rep. Lawrence to share the good news about the Pennsylvania whole milk bill.
Lawrence, who represents parts of Lancaster and Chester counties, said he expects to officially introduce the bill with prime cosponsor Clint Owlett, representing Tioga County, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly returns to session in Harrisburg in a few weeks.
During a recent Farmshine phone interview, Lawrence confirmed that his cosponsor memo generated “good support” among colleagues and supportive responses from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, several other farm organizations, some schools, and most importantly, from dairy farmers, who tell him they are “very grateful.”
Lawrence is concerned about dairy farmers across the state. He has been advocating for them for many years in the General Assembly. He has proposed several bills in the past on other issues related to the PMMB, over order premium distribution, and milk check transparency. Some that passed the House, did not get considered by the Senate before expiring.
“We have had some wins and some setbacks over the years,” said Lawrence. “But this whole milk bill is something I believe will get done. I think there is a lot of support for it and a lot of truth to what the farmers say — that they are losing a whole generation of milk drinkers. There are schools in Pennsylvania that want to provide this choice of whole milk for the kids.”
Lawrence said the bill is structured to deal with this as a state-level issue.
“We want the federal government to address this, to end their prohibition of whole milk in schools, but it has been quite a while now, and they are not addressing it… So we are going to see if we can address it for Pennsylvania,” he affirmed, adding that more details about the bill will be forthcoming when it is formally introduced.
In his cosponsor letter, Lawrence wrote that “due to federal regulations enacted under the Obama Administration, whole (3.25 %) and reduced fat (2%) milk are not served in schools today. Speak with any school cafeteria worker, and they will tell you students are not fans of skim milk. Speak with any dairy farmer in Pennsylvania, and they will tell you that this ill-fated federal directive of removing whole milk from schools is a top concern.”
He also cited studies about the amount of milk wasted at school.
In fact, the federal government did a before-and-after study comparing plate waste in 2011 vs. 2013 to gauge their 2012 ‘nutrition standards’ that reduced the allowable fat content in milk to fat-free or 1%, even for a la carte competing beverage options. This early USDA study showed an immediate 24% reduction in students selecting milk at school and a 22% increase in discarded milk among students who were served the required skimmed milks.
Subsequent studies show the situation has only worsened over the past decade.
Lawrence’s cosponsor letter explains the mechanics of the state’s interest under the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The memo states: “In the near future, we will introduce the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act. This legislation will ensure Pennsylvania students, at Pennsylvania schools, have the option to consume Pennsylvania whole and two percent reduced fat milk paid for with Pennsylvania tax dollars.”
Morrissey said this is welcome news for dairy farmers and the state’s dairy industry, not to mention for the schoolchildren.
He and Troutman were glad to be able to share the good news at the dairy day in Berrysburg.
Troutman showed the Channel 39 public television news video that aired two years ago featuring Troutman and Jackie Behr, marketing manager for the 97 Milk effort, as they explained how the movement got started and what was being accomplished at the start.
He updated attendees to where things are today as 97 Milk celebrated the start of its fourth year this month.
“There is so much to say, but we kept it light,” said Troutman in a phone interview. “I told them about the Pennsylvania Senate hearing back in June, how our committee testified about bringing back the choice of whole milk in schools. Senator Scavello (representing Monroe and Northampton counties) really liked the information on the 6 x 6 card Jackie Behr put together, telling what whole milk provides. I gave him one before the hearing, and he read it two times to be sure it was in the record.”
Troutman confessed he had no idea his painted round bale would lead to a milk education effort with a website, 97milk.com bringing increasing numbers of daily traffic, and social media platforms with monthly average reach of over 300,000 people, as well as some individual posts showing data reaching one million people. He thanks Behr and the 97 Milk board for that, and he thanks Farmshine for telling the story, so other farmers could get involved and bring their ideas.
“It is a team effort,” Troutman confirmed. This teamwork is helping get more cosponsors for the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in Washington. The bipartisan bill was introduced in March 2021 by Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY). It currently stands at 88 cosponsors from 31 states.
The teamwork also led to a 30,000-signature petition, multiple comment drives in USDA rulemaking, speaking engagements with ag and non-ag service groups, and a Pennsylvania school trial demonstrating a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had the option of whole milk, with post-trial surveys showing whole milk was preferred 3 to 1 over low-fat 1% milk.
“I am a positive person, but after that Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon three years ago, seeing we didn’t get anywhere on some things, I went home feeling like I lost my best cow. That’s the best I can describe it. I thought that listening session was going to break things open, but it didn’t,” Troutman told fellow farmers Monday. “I thought I had to do something, anything, so I painted a bale, and yes, well, this is what happened.”
He observed that one of the biggest things is how this movement is energizing dairy farmers, and agribusiness partners are joining in. There’s a renewed purpose.
“This opened people’s eyes. We finally have a way to promote whole milk, and that is spreading to other states, and we even hear from people in other countries,” Troutman said.
“It’s positive news. We need positive news, and the consumers, they want positive news too. They want to know about milk. We didn’t have a way to promote whole milk… until now. We lost a generation of milk drinkers, and we have to make up for that,” said Troutman. “I saw ADANE just did a webinar on whole fat dairy and mentioned the New Jersey Academy of Pediatrics and Nutrition. I didn’t get to watch it, but this is icing on the cake. We have to keep this going because we are finally starting to get somewhere, in the right direction.”