Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
By Sherry Bunting, Updated (above) since published in Farmshine, Feb. 11, 2022
WASHINGTON — USDA announced ‘transitional’ nutrition standards on Friday, Feb. 4 that put low-fat 1% flavored milk back on the menu next school year, without the cumbersome waiver process. The announcement also delays the planned sodium reductions, helping the cheese side of school lunches.
National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) came out with hearty applause for the news, thanking Congressmen G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), author of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), author of the School Milk Nutrition Act, for their leadership on this issue through the years, using words that treat this USDA announcement as though it’s a done-deal, and all is good to go.
But let’s hold our horses and examine the USDA announcement — described clearly as “transitional” based on schools “needing more time to adjust” post-pandemic.
USDA stated that future nutrition standards will be proposed in the fall of 2022 as part of the administration’s “Build Back Better with School Meals, input will be gathered, and those will be the standards that go into place beginning with the 2024-25 school year.
USDA also made it clear that these future long-term standards “will line up with the Dietary Guidelines” and input from schools and industry will be sought in “how to gradually implement them.”
In 2010, the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of Congress tied government food and nutrition programs, like school lunch, to the Dietary Guidelines. By 2012, under President Obama’s USDA — with Tom Vilsack at the helm then as now — had banned whole milk as an a la carte offering in the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules. At the same time, the Department required flavored milk to only be offered if it was fat-free and required unflavored milk to be either fat-free or low-fat 1%.
Milk sales plummeted and waste increased.
Then, the Trump-USDA in 2018, under Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, “rolled back” some of the 2012 USDA standards, delaying the sodium rules and allowing low-fat 1% flavored milk to be offered through a waiver system at the state level. Some states, like Pennsylvania, made blanket waivers available, and many schools began offering low-fat 1% flavored milk over the next few years.
Then, a lawsuit took the Trump-era USDA to court for the rollbacks. The court ruled that the Trump-USDA did not use a proper public comment process before doing the rollbacks. So, beginning with the 2021-22 school year, the low-fat 1% flavored milk was again bumped out of school menus — except where waivers were sometimes granted for pandemic-related supply disruptions as justification for serving a higher fat milk.
Over the past year, USDA Food Nutrition Services has received comments about how to gradually implement nutrition standards to line up with the Dietary Guidelines on sodium, whole grains, and milkfat. Friday’s announcement on ‘transitional standards’ was accompanied by a detailed and lengthy rule that will be implemented July 1, 2022.
“USDA is giving schools time to transition from current, pandemic operations, toward more nutritious meals. In 2022, USDA will continue to prioritize supporting schools as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic and related operational issues,” the announcement said, adding that USDA “is also planning for the future by engaging with school meal stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards beginning in school year 2024-2025 that will be achievable.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was quoted in the announcement blaming the pandemic disruptions of the past two years for making schools “unprepared to fully meet those standards at this time” for milk, whole grains and sodium.
“These transitional standards are step one of a longer-term strategy to lean into the school meal programs as a crucial part of improving child health,” said Vilsack.
“Over the coming months and years, USDA will work closely with its school meal partners to develop the next iteration of nutrition requirements. We’ve got to find the right balance between standards that give our kids the best chance at a healthy future based on the latest nutrition science, and ensuring those standards are practical, built to last, and work for everyone,” Vilsack added.
The purpose of the “transitional” standards, according to the USDA announcement, is to “give schools clarity for the coming school years, allowing them to gradually transition from the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic to normal program operations and meal standards that are consistent with the latest nutrition science, as required by law.”
Specifically, the transitional standards beginning with the 2022-23 school year are as follows:
1) Milk: Schools and childcare providers serving participants ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk;
2) Whole Grains: At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grain-rich; and
3) Sodium:The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level in SY 2022-2023. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in SY 2023-2024. (This affects school cheese).
The expressed linkage of long-term USDA nutrition standards to the anti-fat 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was mentioned throughout the USDA announcement, giving an indication of where the school milk standards are headed, long-term.
That is, unless Congress acts to remove all doubt and make fuller fat milk — whole milk — a legal option for schools in the future.
For a true solution for the long-term, Congressional leadership is needed on the school milk issue.
‘Climate neutrality, not net zero carbon, should be dairy’s goal.’
By Sherry Bunting
‘Net zero’ seems like a simple term, but it’s loaded, according to Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist with the Department of Animal Science at University of California-Davis.
He firmly believes dairy can be a climate solution, but the first step is to accurately define dairy’s contribution to the climate problem. Setting the record straight is his prime focus, and he also researches ways dairy, like every industry, “can do our bit to improve.”
Presenting on what ‘net zero’ really means for dairies, Mitloehner answered questions during the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) annual business meeting in December, attended by over 150 producers from across the country via webinar.
Based in Wisconsin, ADC is a national producer-driven voice with a regionally diverse board. President Walt Moore, a Chester County, Pennsylvania dairy producer, welcomed virtual meeting attendees, and CEO Laurie Fischer shared a federal dairy policy update.
She said the ADC board is nimble, moves quickly, and wants to hear from fellow dairy farmers. She encouraged membership to make ADC stronger and shared about the organization’s federal policy focus in 2021 — from pandemic disruptions and assistance, Federal Order pricing, depooling and negative PPDs to real dairy label integrity, whole milk choice in schools, and farmers’ questions and concerns about dairy ‘net-zero’ actions.
“Too often, farmers think they may not understand something, so they don’t speak up,” said Fischer. “But we get calls and so much great advice from our farmers. We know you get it, you know it, because it is happening to you.”
From this farmer input, the net-zero topic became the ADC annual meeting focus.
“We are rethinking methane, and this is influencing and shaping the discussion,” Dr. Mitloehner reported. He urged producers to use the information at the CLEAR Center at https://clear.ucdavis.edu/ and to do better networking, to have a better presence on social media.
This is necessary because the activists are well-connected, and methane is the angle they use in their quest to end animal agriculture. He said Twitter is a platform where many of these discussions are happening. His handle there is @GHGGuru and the Center is @UCDavisCLEAR.
“This is something I have told the dairy industry. They say ‘net-zero carbon’, but they shouldn’t say that because it is not possible, and it is not needed. We need to be saying ‘net-zero warming’. That’s the goal. Then, every time you reduce methane, you instantaneously have an impact that is inducing a cooling effect,” said Mitloehner.
‘Climate neutrality’ is the more accurate term he uses to describe the pathways for U.S. dairy and beef. But it requires getting accurate information into policy in a fact-based way.
It requires arming people with the knowledge that the constant and efficient U.S. dairy and livestock herds produce no new methane, that they are climate-neutral because not only is methane continuously destroyed in the atmosphere at a rate roughly equal to what is continuously emitted by cow burps and manure, that process involves a biogenic carbon cycle in which the cow is a key part.
One of the issues is how methane from cattle is measured, he said. Current policy uses a measurement from 30 years ago that fails to acknowledge the carbon cycle and ‘sinks’ alongside the ‘emissions.’
Mitloehner said accurate information is beginning to change the narrative. This is critical because methane is the GHG of concern for dairy, and the narrative about it has been incomplete and inaccurate.
As a more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, methane becomes the ‘easy’ target to achieve the warming limits in the Paris Accord. Methane was the focal point of ‘additional warming limits’ during the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November.
Putting together the inaccurate narrative alongside international agreements to specifically reduce methane, it becomes obvious why cattle are in the crosshairs. Producers are already in the middle of this in California as methane regulation and carbon credit systems began there several years ago.
As the narrative is beginning to change, Mitloehner sees opportunities. He described the current California ‘goldrush’ of renewable natural gas (RNG) projects where large herds both in and out of state cover lagoons to capture and convert biogas into RNG. The state’s investments and renewable fuel standard provide a 10-year guarantee with the RNG companies typically owning the offset credits that can be traded on the California exchange from anywhere.
Getting the numbers right is mission-critical
“We are far and away an outlier because of our efficiency in the U.S with all livestock and feed representing 4% of the GHG total for the U.S,” Mitloehner confirmed. “Dairy, alone, is less than 2% of the U.S. total.”
This is much smaller than the 14.5% figure that is thrown about recklessly. That is a global number that includes non-productive cattle in India as well as the increasing herds in less efficient developing countries. This number also lumps in other things, such as deforestation.
He said the true global percentage of emissions for livestock and manure is 5.8%. Unfortunately, activists and media tend to use the inflated global figure and conflate it with these other things to inaccurately describe the climate impact of U.S. dairy and livestock herds as 14.5%.
The efficiency of U.S. production and the nutrient density of animal foods must be part of the food and climate policy equation.
Methane is not GHG on steroids
“Without greenhouse gases, life on earth would not be possible because it would be too cold here,” said Mitloehner. “We need GHG, but human activity puts too much into the atmosphere, and the toll is large concentrations.”
The way all GHGs are measured has to do with their intensity as determined 30 years ago when scientists wanted one global warming potential (GWP) unit to compare cows to cars to cement production and so forth. They came up with GWP100, which converts methane to CO2 equivalents based on its warming potential.
Methane traps 28 times more heat than CO2, but it is short-lived, Mitloehner explained.
“Looking just at the warming potential, you get this idea that methane is GHG on steroids and that we need to get rid of all of it and all of its sources,” he said.
But is this the end of the methane story? No.
Sinks and cycles must count
Mitloehner described how ‘methane budgets’ look at sources and their emissions but ignore the carbon sinks that go alongside and ignore the chemical reactions that result in atmospheric removal of methane as well.
“Plants need sunlight, water, and a source of carbon. That carbon they need comes from the atmosphere to produce oxygen and carbohydrates,” he said, explaining how cows eat the carbohydrates and convert them to nutrient dense milk and beef. In that process, the rumen produces methane.
“Is this new and additional carbon added to the atmosphere? No it is not. It is recycled carbon,” he said.
“Say you work off the farm. You drive and burn fuel, adding new CO2 in addition to the stock in the atmosphere the day before. Stock gases accumulate because they stay in the environment. Currently, agencies treat methane as if it behaves the same way. But methane is a flow gas, not a stock gas. It is not cumulative,” said Mitloehner.
If the same farm has 1000 cows belching today and 1000 belching 10 years ago, those 1000 cows are not belching new methane because in 10 years it is gone from the atmosphere. It is cyclical.
“The take-home message is the carbon that our constant livestock herds produce is not new carbon in the atmosphere. It is a constant source because similarly to it being produced, it is also destroyed. The destruction part is not finding its way into the public policy system… but it will in the future,” he predicts.
Methane drives Paris Accord and COP26
Methane targets are driving intergovernmental agreements wanting to limit the “additional warming impact” of nations and industries.
Currently, cattle are viewed as global-warmers because they constantly emit methane. However, as Mitloehner drilled numerous times, this is not new methane, it is not additive, it is not cumulative. It is recycled carbon.
“If you have constant livestock herds, like in the U.S., then you are not causing new additional warming,” said Mitloehner.
Burning fossil fuels is much different.
“Fossilized carbon accumulated underground. Over 70 years, we have extracted half of it and burned it, so where is it now? In the atmosphere. We added new and additional CO2 that is not a short-lived gas. It is a one-way street from the ground into the air,” he explained.
The problem for dairy and beef producers is their cattle are being depicted as though their emissions are additive, cumulative, like fossil fuels, which is not true, he said.
Signs the narrative is changing
One promising sign that the message is getting through has come from Oxford researchers acknowledging the constant cattle herds in the U.S. and UK are not adding new warming.
They acknowledge the GWP100 “grossly overestimates” the warming impact of cattle and are working on a new measurement that recognizes constant cattle herds are not adding new warming, said Mitloehner.
Another promising sign is that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a statement recently acknowledging that the current GWP100 overblows the warming impact of cattle by a factor of four. This new information is not in current policy, but it is making its way there.
Tale of two bathtubs
Mitloehner believes it is important to visualize climate neutrality. He described two bathtubs. One has a CO2 faucet with no drain, the other a methane faucet with a drain. Open the faucets, and even at a slow and steady rate, the CO2 bathtub continues to rise, while the methane bathtub drains as it fills to remain at a constant level.
He also explained that over the past 200 years the U.S. hasn’t seen any real change in that methane bathtub because prior to settlement in America, 100 million ruminants — buffalo and other wild herds — roamed. Today, there are around 100 million large ruminants in the U.S. dairy and beef industries.
What has changed is the U.S. does have more liquid manure lagoon storage that is producing more methane than solid manure storage. “But we know of ways to further reduce that,” he said.
Mitloehner pointed out how the current GWP100 poorly estimates the warming impact three example scenarios. If, over 30 years, methane is increased 35% from a source, or reduced 10%, or reduced 35%, the GWP100 would show significant continuous addition of cow-sourced methane in CO2 equivalents for all three scenarios because the destruction of the methane – the drain that operates with the faucet – is ignored.
The proper way to look at this, if the methane increased a lot, is that it would add a lot. But if it is balanced, then there is no new or additional warming. And, in that third scenario, he said, “where we pull a lot from the atmosphere when we reduce methane, it has the same impact as growing a forest.”
Bottom line, said Mitloehner, “We can be a solution and take it to the market and get paid for that,” but current policy does not yet reflect the neutral position of the constant and efficient U.S. herd.
Bullish about the future
‘Net zero’ is a term that is not yet clearly defined, said Dr. Frank Mitloehner several times during the American Dairy Coalition annual meeting by webinar in December. He sees the real goal as “climate neutrality,” to communicate the way constant U.S. dairy herds contribute “no additional warming,” in other words “net zero warming.”
The climate neutrality of U.S. cattle must be part of public policy, he said. Only then will dairies truly be on a path to marketing their reductions as ‘cooling offsets.’
Mitloehner, a University of California animal scientist and GHG expert is bullish about the future of “turning this methane liability into an asset, so if we manage toward reducing this gas, we can take that reduction to the carbon market,” he said.
“When we hear ‘net zero’, we think about carbon, but that would mean no more GHG is being produced, and that is not possible. I have told the dairy industry this for years. Why is (zero GHG) not possible? Because cows always belch, and we can’t offset that, and furthermore, we do not need to offset that because it is not new methane,” said Mitloehner.
On the other hand, “If we replace beef and dairy made in the U.S., this does not create a GHG reduction at all. This is because we are the most productive and efficient in the world,” he said.
Just stopping beef and dairy production here in the U.S. — and picking up the slack by producing it somewhere else or producing something else in its place — creates ‘leakage.’ This leakage, he said, is where the biogenic carbon cycle becomes disrupted. In other words, the bathtub has a faucet that is out of sync with the drain.
California’s RNG ‘goldrush’
Mitloehner touched on the strict California standards that mandate a 40% reduction of methane be achieved by the state by 2030. Again, methane is targeted because of its warming potential per the Paris Accord.
The good news, he said, is California is using incentives to encourage covering manure lagoons to capture a percentage of the biogas bubble so that it doesn’t go into the atmosphere but is trapped beneath the tarp and converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) that can be sold as vehicle fleet fuel to replace diesel.
Because this RNG comes from a captured and converted methane source, it is considered a most carbon-negative fuel in the state’s low-carbon fuel standard.
Those credits equate to $200 per ton of CO2 replaced with a carbon-negative renewable, said Mitloehner.
“This is a huge credit. This is why dairies are flocking to get lagoons covered to trap and convert. These credits are guaranteed for 10 years in California, but the anti-agriculture activists are fuming over them,” said Mitloehner.
Of all California investments made toward achieving the 40% methane reduction goal, dairy has received just 3% of funds, but has achieved 13% of reductions so far.
This “carrot” approach has incentivized the biogas RNG projects assuming $4000 income per cow, making an estimated $1500 to $2000 per cow per year on a 10-year California fuel standard guarantee.
Mitloehner noted that the carbon intensity of the reduction is presently viewed as greater when RNG is used in vehicles vs. generating electricity, but right now there is not enough RNG suitable for vehicle use. He sees the fuel use increasing in the future and explained that dairies anywhere can sell into the California market if they capture biogas and convert it to RNG.
The state’s 10-year guarantee has stimulated companies seeking to invest in RNG projects on large dairy farms, where they then own or share the credits.
Mitloehner answered a few questions from producers about the caveats. If the bottom and top of the lagoon are covered, what happens to the sludge that accumulates? He acknowledged there is no satisfactory answer to that question presently.
Another drawback is the technology only works for larger dairies because smaller lagoons won’t have the same breakeven. Community digester models are emerging as well, he said, but they also use clusters of large farms working together.
Soil carbon sequestration
Mitloehner cited soil carbon sequestration as a way dairy farms of any size can be a solution.
It’s the process by which agriculture and forestry take carbon out of the air via the plant root systems that allow the soil microbes to take it into the soil — unless the soil is disturbed by tilling or it is released through fires. With good forest and grassland management, as well as low- and no-till farming practices, carbon can be sequestered to stay in the ground forever, according to Mitloehner.
“Agriculture and forests are the only two ways to do this,” he said, adding that USDA seeks to incentivize practices that take and keep more of the atmospheric carbon in the soil.
Answering questions from producers, he noted that he has not yet seen a scheme that would incentivize soil carbon sequestration through marketing offsets, but the discussions are heading in that direction.
“Many of the environmental justice communities are running wild on this. They do not want farmers to get any money for it. They are putting on significant pressure and threatening lawsuits, so it’s not settled yet,” he reported.
There is also a lot of confusion around soil carbon sequestration and “regenerative” agriculture. One big problem is that producers who are doing some of these things, already, won’t get the opportunity to capitalize on those practices when offset protocols are eventually developed — if those practices are not deemed “additive.”
“If you are doing something now and are not covered by a policy of financial incentive, then four years from now, if it is developed, they’ll say you don’t qualify because you are already doing it,” said Mitloehner.
“They are calling it ‘additionality.’ It’s about the change to doing it to qualify. That seems crazy, but it’s like if you bought an electric vehicle 10 years ago when there was no tax credit, you don’t get a tax credit now for already owning an EV because the improvement is not ‘additional,’” he explained.
What about the burps?
For farms with under 1000 cows, other technologies like feed additives can be used on any size dairy with effects realized within a week, said Mitloehner, noting one product that is commercially available and several others on the docket.
If a 10 to 15% reduction can be achieved in enteric (belching) methane reduction, then it will be marketable. Right now, these reductions are not marketable. If an offset protocol is developed for this in the future, it will be taken to the carbon market, he said.
In the meantime, incentives are being offered within supply chains, according to Mitloehner. Companies like Nestle, Starbucks and others are doing pilot projects and buying feed additives for the farmers within their supply chains to reduce their products’ GHG. He said there is some evidence these products can enhance components and feed efficiency. This is a big area of research right now.
A question was also asked during the webinar, wondering about Amish farms using horses instead of tractors. Are they contributing to cooling?
Mitloehner replied that he has not yet seen a calculation for this, and while the impact of horses would be less than the impact of burning fossil fuels, there is still an environmental impact to calculate.
Since the international focus is on ‘additional warming impact’, methane is – like it or not — the target. Whether a dairy farm is managed conventionally or in the Amish tradition, the cows, the methane, and how governments and industry measure the ‘additional warming impact’ of cow-sourced methane, is still the crux of the issue for all dairy farms. If efficiency is reduced, then the ability to position the dairy farm as ‘cooling’ may be more complicated, or less significant, he said.
In addition to accurate definitions that acknowledge climate neutrality of constant cattle herds producing no new methane, Mitloehner’s wish is for federal policy to also take productivity (and nutrient density) into stronger consideration when evaluating emission intensity “instead of just counting heads of cattle.
“This can be good for large or small dairies with a high or low footprint. When the relative emissions are determined by how you manage the dairy, the hope is that this is more about the how than the cow.”
50-year crisis cited, but no mention of 50-year low-fat regime’s role
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 5, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Half of the U.S. population is pre-diabetic or has type II diabetes, and one out of almost every three dollars in the federal budget goes to healthcare, with 80% of that spending on treatment of preventable chronic diseases,” said Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), chairman of Senate Ag’s nutrition subcommittee as he and ranking member Mike Braun (R-Ind.) began the hearing on the state of nutrition in America Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Calling the situation a crisis, senators and witnesses cited statistics that have worsened over the past 50 years.
“Our healthcare costs today are 20% of GDP. In the 1960s, it was 7%. It has tripled in 50 years,” said Sen. Braun. In 1960, he said, 3% of the population was obese. Today it’s over 40%, with more than 70% of the population either obese or overweight.
“More shocking,” said Booker, “is that 25% of teenagers are pre-diabetic or have type II diabetes, and 70% are disqualified from military service” — with the number one medical reason being overweight or diabetic.
Witnesses and senators blamed the “epidemic” on a food system designed to solve 20th century problems of ending hunger by investing in cheap calories – especially carbohydrates. They indicated that 21st century goals should be focused on designing a food system that delivers nutrition and makes the nation healthier.
“We want to rethink the way we approach food and nutrition policy. Our lives literally depend on it,” said Sen. Booker, “This nutrition crisis we face is a threat — the greatest threat to the health and well-being of our country and a threat to our economic security and our national security.”
That’s why Senators Booker and Braun recently introduced bipartisan legislation to convene public and private stakeholders in what would be the second White House conference ever to be held on food and nutrition. The first was convened in the late 1960s, when then Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole formed a select nutrition committee in a time of food shortages and high prices.
That time-period was also when the precursor to the Dietary Guidelines was established, which by the 1980s had become the official and now notorious Dietary Guidelines cycle.
While Tuesday’s hearing continually hit this notion that 52 years later we have all of these devastating statistics, it was interesting that there was zero mention of the Dietary Guidelines. Those words were not uttered by any senator or any witness at any point in the over two-hour-long hearing.
Another item that did not pass through any lips Tuesday was the acknowledgment that 52 years of the low-fat dietary regime has prevailed and has progressively tightened its hold over school diets even as these statistics, especially on youth, have worsened into crisis-mode.
The closest anyone got to mentioning dietary fat was when Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a doctor by profession, asked witnesses if they thought the CDC missed an opportunity to do public service announcements about “nutrition and building up our own immune systems” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He talked about volunteering in the ICU and ER of a south Kansas hospital in the spring of 2020 when COVID was sweeping the land.
“There were eight ICU beds and 11 patients, all in their 50s, and all had diabetes or pre-diabetes. Immediately, I called the CDC and said, ‘this virus is going to assault this country.’” He observed that our rates of morbidity and mortality are higher with this virus than some other countries because almost half of the population is diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Sen. Marshall voiced his frustration: “We’ve had a year and a half of this virus, and I thought this might be an awakening for this country, that if we had a better, healthier immune system, that’s how you fight viruses.”
One of the five witnesses — Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of the Tufts University Friedman School of Food and Nutrition Policy – responded to say that alongside developing vaccines, treatments and guidelines for social distancing, “the huge additional foundational effort should have been to improve our overall metabolic health through better nutrition. So, every time we talk about vaccines, social distancing, mask wearing, why aren’t we talking about nutrition?”
“Everything we need to know about nutrition I learned from my mother and my grandmother,” said Sen. Marshall. “We need to be using our medical assets for nutrition education. Doctors need to understand that Vitamins D, A, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins, so we need to be drinking our whole milk and looking at these general concepts.”
This was the hearing’s only – and subtle — reference to dietary fat. It was the only, but quiet, nod to any suggestion of the impact of federal government restrictions on the diets of children during school hours while their rates of obesity and type II diabetes continue to rise to epidemic proportions. Not one witness or senator delved into this topic in any substantial way.
Throughout the hearing, that seemed to focus on a new paradigm in food and nutrition, there were also strong references to a key part of the problem — the food industry is controlled by a handful of large multinational corporations providing nutrient-poor, addictive and ultra-processed foods.
“Farmers answered the call of a growing population and issues with malnutrition 50 years ago. Through innovation, agriculture makes more from less and works to protect our soils along the way. We’ve made progress but are still geared to address caloric intake, not the content of the calories,” said Sen. Braun.
He focused his comments on the healthcare industry being the place to make new investments in nutrition as a preventive solution and indicated SNAP purchase restrictions are in order.
Dr. Angela Rachidi, doing poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute said putting SNAP program restrictions on sugary beverages and incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables would be positive steps to show SNAP is serious about nutrition. She referenced studies showing that three of the five largest purchase categories with SNAP dollars are sweetened beverages, frozen prepared meals, and dessert items.
Mozaffarian was the first of the five witnesses. He did not mention his Tufts University “Food Compass” project by name, which was published three weeks ago, nor did he mention the $10 million grant received three weeks ago from USDA to develop a “cultivated meat industry,” including assessment of consumer attitudes and development of K-12 education on cell-cultured meat.
“We are on a path to disaster,” he said, calling type II diabetes America’s “canary in the coal mine,” on which the U.S. spends $160 billion annually.
Describing current food and nutrition policy as “fragmented and inefficient,” Mozaffarian said: “Nutrition has no home, no body for focus or leadership across the federal government.”
Mozaffarian’s six recommended government actions paint a picture of a centralized national structure and authority for food and nutrition policy with emphasis on integration of research, the healthcare system, programs like school lunch, and ramping up new innovation startups entering the food system.
He stressed his belief that a “real national strategy” is needed, one that “reimagines the future food system.” He said the science and tools are already available to do this, to integrate into existing programs and make changes – fast.
Perhaps the “tools” Mozaffarian was referring to are within the new Tufts Food Compass he helped create, which ranked “almondmilk” and “soymilk” ahead of skim milk and far ahead of whole milk. It also puts chocolate milk and some types of cheeses near the bottom of the ‘minimize’ category, along with unprocessed beef.
In fact, the only high-scoring dairy product found in the ‘encouraged’ category was whole Greek yogurt. Cheerios and sweet potato chips ranked higher than dairy products, including the whole Greek yogurt.
Also testifying was Dr. Patrick Stover of Texas A&M’s Agri-Life Center. He noted the public’s “lack of trust” in nutrition science.
He stressed that the nation’s land grant universities are “a network of extraordinary resources, a national treasure” that benefits from having public trust but lost federal investment levels over the years.
Stover said Texas A&M is now launching an institute for advancing health through agriculture as well as an agriculture, nutrition and food science center for non-biased research on the human, environmental and economic success of proposed changes.
He supports a “systemic approach to connect people to food and health,” an approach that involves everyone from farm to consumer. He said Agri-Life is positioned to lead such an effort through the land grant university system.
Stover noted scientists involved in the precision nutrition initiative at the National Institutes of Health are starting to understand how individuals interact with food in relation to these chronic diseases.
“One size does not fit all,” he said.
Witnesses Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, director of Food and Nutrition Education in Communities at Cornell, as well as Dr. Donald Warne, director of public health programs at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, both talked about the cultural aspects of food. They referenced differing experiences of populations separated from lands and cultures where food was accessible and how certain demographic populations are being targeted by fast-food advertising that is leading to higher rates of chronic diet-related diseases among native Americans and people of color.
Poverty and reliance on cheap highly processed foods was part of that discussion.
“Poor diets and overconsumption of calories are a major crisis,” Dr. Rachidi stressed as a former deputy commissioner of New York City social services overseeing the SNAP program. “Nutrition assistance programs have mixed success” providing food security but also contributing to the problem of poor nutrition.
She said current nutrition policies lack a cohesive strategy. On the one hand harsh restrictions in some programs and no restrictions in others.
“We have to acknowledge the reality, the billions we spend to improve food security are used in a way that is a major contributor to poor health,” said Rachidi.
At the conclusion, chairman Booker stressed his belief that there is a misalignment of government.
“The farmer’s share of the consumer dollar from beef to broccoli has gone down 50% in a food system where everyone is losing,” said Booker. “We are losing the health of our country, seeing the challenges with farmers and the disappearance of family farms, the issues of food workers, what’s happening with animals and the environment. Let’s not be fooled. This is not a free market right now.”
He noted that farmers are “stuck in mono-cropping” without incentives to move to more regenerative agriculture. “We love farmers. They aren’t the problem. We have to figure out a way to align incentives with policy decisions because it is out of whack.”
Asked by Booker to give a ‘business perspective,’ ranking member Braun concluded that the best place to implement a solution is to do it where the most money is being spent on the problem and that is the healthcare system. Food is a bargain, which addresses hunger, “but we need to reconstitute the quality of the calories,” he said, putting the emphasis on the nutrient density of foods.
It was a deep dive into the impacts of the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools, and positive momentum chipped away at the federal log-jam. The June 16th hearing by the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee was livestreamed. A recording as well as written testimony can be viewed at https://policy.pasenategop.com/mp-061621/
Even though senators came and went in person and by zoom — due to a busy morning of meetings and votes — they were engaged with good questions and insights.
By the end of the rapid-fire 90-minutes featuring 11 testifiers in three panels, Chairman Mario Scavello (R-40th) had several actionable pathways.
It was a big day for the 97 Milk effort as several volunteers were invited to testify, and Chairman Scavello (above) read — not once but twice — from a 97 Milk handout, saying he wanted to make sure it gets into the hearing record.
“All of this in an 8-ounce cup of milk is what we are taking away from kids (when they discard or don’t take the fat-free or low-fat milk served). What are they thinking out there?” Scavello declared after reading the 6×6 card Nelson Troutman (below), had given him prior to the start of the hearing.
All 11 testifiers that morning supported whole milk as a choice in schools, bringing various farm, school, organization and consumer perspectives to help state senators understand the federal stumbling blocks. Chairman Scavello complimented “the breadth and depth” of what was learned.
These actions were identified by the Chairman:
— Develop and send a Resolution from Pennsylvania to the Federal Government, and if no results, begin to look at the cost and what would be involved to do something at the state level “on our own” to position Pennsylvania schools to be able to offer fuller fat milk.
— Conduct statewide pilot trials — a school district in every county — like the 2019-20 trial at Union City Area School District, to obtain widespread data and create more awareness. Foodservice director Krista Byler had shared her milk choice trial results, and Sen. Cris Dush (R-25th) noted a similar trial was done at a school in his district.
— Make other states aware of this federal issue and work on getting something done through National Conference of State Legislatures.
— Reach out to federal lawmakers to gain additional support and co-sponsors for H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, introduced by Representatives Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-PA) and Antonio Delgado (D-NY) in the House and to surface a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
Layers of the onion were peeled.
The issues for students boil down to nutrition and taste.
The issues for dairy farmers are losing a generation of milk drinkers, giving up market share to global beverage brands, and the resulting economics that are driving farms out of business at a rapid rate.
The issues for schools are lack of awareness, a decade of outright federal restrictions, years of fat-free/low-fat indoctrination among school foodservice personnel — some of this “conditioning” performed by the national dairy checkoff’s school wellness program via the MOU with USDA — and the 2 to 5 cent extra cost of whole milk in tight school budgets.
(Author’s note: currently, students aren’t even permitted to purchase whole milk on school grounds as an a la carte or vending machine or fundraiser option. It seems we could start by legalizing it there.)
Lost generation of milk drinkers cited.
“We lost a generation of milk drinkers since whole milk was taken out of the schools,” said Nelson Troutman. The Berks County dairy farmer painted the first round bale Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free. He testified that people don’t know much about milk.
“They also don’t know schools are only allowed to offer fat-free and 1% low-fat milk, that the kids don’t like it and throw it away,” he said. “We had to do something to let consumers know whole milk is not 50% fat or 10% fat or 100% fat, it’s 3.25% fat.”
Jayne Sebright, an Adams county dairy producer, mother, and executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence said the situation is “not only scary for dairy farmers, but also for our children and our future society.
“The truth is that fuller fat milk in schools could mean the difference between a child developing a life-long milk drinking habit, or not. It’s that simple,” said Sebright. “If they don’t like milk in school, they’re less likely to drink it at home, and if they don’t drink it at home, they’re less likely to drink it as an adult, and if they don’t drink it as an adult, they are less likely to give it to their children. So not only are we losing this generation, we’re losing generations to come.”
Rob Barley, a farmer in Lancaster and York counties and chairman of the PMMB (Pa. Milk Marketing Board) encouraged state senators to help influence a change at the federal level and among other states to “fight for future milk drinkers and the farmers that produce this nutritious product.”
Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer, talked about how government policies and industry organizations stand between farmers and the public. Eby serves as chairman of National Dairy Producers Organization and executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets. He also represents the southeast district on the Pennsylvania Farmers Union board.
“I see the divide that keeps farmers and consumers apart — on knowledge, markets, fairness and choice. The issue of allowing children to choose whole milk at school is one that seems to escape the application of logic, freedom and fairness,” said Eby.
The state’s interest was made clear.
Troutman said the issue directly affects Pennsylvania.
“This is a fluid milk state. Pennsylvania does not have 10,000-cow dairies or huge cheese factories. We are communities of small and medium-sized farms owned by families that support their communities,” said Troutman. “We have the land, the water, and the people who want to do the work in Pennsylvania. Dairy is 37% of our number one industry: agriculture. Our dairies are struggling. Without them, we lose other businesses, jobs, support for other parts of agriculture and the economy. Tourism, we lose our tourism.”
Barley also pointed out the state’s interest.
“Fluid milk consumption is vital to the survival of the dairy industry, but even more vital to the Pennsylvania dairy producers. The premium provided by the fluid milk market and the additional premium from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board, have helped to keep Pa. dairy farmers in business,” said Barley. “If milk consumption continues to decrease, there will be a continued exit of PA dairy producers.”
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president Rick Ebert, a Westmoreland County dairy farmer, noted that, “Providing school children with healthy milk choices is one of our organization’s leading concerns when it comes to strengthening the dairy industry. We have supported several legislative efforts in Congress to repeal current standards and give school districts the flexibility to offer whole milk and flavored whole milk if they so choose.”
Eby highlighted the “significant stake in the impact on farms, allied businesses, jobs and revenue,” he said. “Our state also has an interest in children being able to choose milk they will drink, to actually receive the nutrition, considering they eat one or two meals a day at school.”
“Former Senator Scott Wagner told me I should go along on the garbage truck to schools and see how much milk is thrown away unopened,” said Troutman. “I would want our Governor and Secretaries of Agriculture and Education to go to a school at lunch time and see for themselves how much milk is thrown out. They can ask the students why, and they might be surprised by their answers because kids are brutally honest. Be sure to take the TV cameras along.”
Restoring choice would have positive impacts.
Sebright noted potential shifts in sales from nonfat milk to fuller fat milk would help stimulate overall demand for milk. She said that according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, 16% of milk produced is exported, and most of that is skim solids, not fat. She said the U.S. dairy industry presently uses 97% of the milk fat produced. More whole milk sales in Pennsylvania would mean more demand for Pennsylvania milk.
On the other side of that equation, in a milk pricing system that can be inequitable, lack price-discovery and transparency, Eby noted: “When milk fat is treated as a byproduct, it can be undervalued as a component. If school children had the choice of whole milk, future generations of milk drinkers would not be lost, and new market and processing opportunities could result for dairy farms right here in Pennsylvania.”
Eby also reminded senators that fresh whole milk is the most locally-produced product in the dairy sector, and it is the class that brings a higher value to farmers in their blend price.
“The overall despair that I am seeing among dairy farmers, is the feeling they’ve got nowhere to turn legislatively or through their cooperatives for any hope of speaking up on their behalf. Being heard on an issue as simple as whole milk choice in schools — and seeing progress on this issue — would give a lot of dairy farmers hope,” he said.
Speaking for Farm Bureau, Ebert gave details about Pennsylvania’s dairy processing infrastructure, pricing mechanisms and proximity to population. “The bottom line is our dairy industry has relied heavily on fresh milk consumption. While our farm families are accustomed to market forces, and are adapting their small businesses to these changing conditions, an increase in fresh milk consumption would be an immediate boost,” said Ebert. “Our organization believes that giving schools the ability to offer whole and 2% milk could lead to a new generation appreciating the taste and nutritional benefits of milk.”
Better health, more revenue, but where’s Dept. of Agriculture?
Referring to the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, Troutman said: “$400,000 in grants are given by the Department to modernize dairy farms, but these farmers, technically, could get a termination letter at any time from their processor… They give $400,000 in grants for farm to school education, but dairy is not even mentioned because milk is already in the lunch – but it’s not whole milk that the kids like and need,” he said.
Troutman said further that, “Putting whole milk as a drink choice back in schools would cost the state’s taxpayers a lot less money than other things we do. The benefits of whole milk sales would be huge — better health, more revenue — and we could save our Pennsylvania dairy farms. It’s a win-win.”
Chairman Scavello agreed. “We grew up drinking whole milk, and I think we did okay,” he said.
School nurse gives ‘striking’ data
Speaking of the health aspects, Christine Ebersole RN, BSN, CSN, a school nurse in the Williamsburg School District, with 24 years previously working in a hospital. She also mentioned in her testimony the amount of milk she sees thrown away in the cafeteria.
“In 2008, the Federal Government began prohibiting public schools from serving whole milk to students, presumably to decrease obesity in children. Whole milk has 3.25 % milk fat that’s 97% fat free,” said Ebersole.
She explained that each year school nurses are required to record height and weights on students.
“These are called BMI’s or Body Mass Index which measures body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 85- 95 % is considered overweight and 95-100% is obese. I thought it would be interesting to compare screenings when whole milk was served in schools with the recent screening where students have been served skim, 1% and 1.5% flavored milk through out their years in school. Our graduating seniors would have been served reduced fat milk during their entire school experience.”
Calling the results “striking,” Ebersole said: “The overweight and obese categories for students in grades 7-12 in 2007-2008 school year was 39% with 60% in the proper BMI scale. In the year 2020-2021, after being served reduced fat milk during school hours, the overweight and obese categories were increased to 52% while the proper range was decreased to 46%. That is a 13% increase over the past 13 years! While one cannot assume that the low fat milk alternatives are the only determining factors, they certainly did not have the intended outcome of reducing obesity in school age children.”
Ebersole suggested that in addition to putting the choice of whole milk back in schools, senators could look at bringing back the afternoon “milk break.”
“The miniscule fat content (in whole milk) is more than offset by the fact that students will actually drink their whole milk instead of sugary drinks with empty calories,” said Ebersole. On the ‘milk break’ suggestion, she explained that many students need an energy boost in the afternoon.
“This would help with meeting their nutritional needs as well as giving then the energy needed to complete their school work,” she explained. “Many junior and senior high school students participate in after school activities, practices and sporting events. The milk would be a nutrient rich drink, that contains 9 essential nutrients to strengthen their mind and bodies.”
Krista Byler, food service director for Union City Area School District in northwest Pennsylvania deviated from her written testimony to address questions raised by senators about the challenges facing school foodservice directors in getting whole milk to ‘fit’ in their federally-regulated lunch tray, not to mention extreme fat restrictions for a la carte beverages.
She said education is needed for school foodservice directors to understand the benefits of milkfat and the impact current policies have on children and farms. The other area to look at will be pricing, she said. Right now, milk is not seen as a priority by most foodservice directors when it comes to using tight budgets to get meals on the tray.
“Food service directors have been conditioned to think in the past 10 to 12 years that anything but skim milk and 1% milk has any place in the schools,” said Byler. “A lot of our directors are still behind on the science. They truly believe that the fat is too much for our students. They’re still on the bandwagon that this is going to solve the obesity epidemic.”
Byler is starting to see some movement from her peers seeing the milkfat avoidance as outdated information.
Sebright also highlighted the multi-faceted issues, having spent her early career working with school foodservice directors. “If there is a way that we can help those school foodservice directors balance that tray, balance their budget and still include that fuller fat milk that is so critical to their kids needs, that would be amazing,” she said.
One way to do that is to make milk a standalone component of the school lunch, like it used to be, so it’s not part of the meal calculation, said Byler. She went over the results of her milk choice trial.
School trial is an eye-opener
Senators were impressed by the school milk choice trial, so much so that one key action they discussed was for the state to support schools that want to set up a similar trial in every county. This step would create widespread awareness and gather statewide consumption, waste and student response data at the same time.
“The students had no idea we were doing the trial, and they had no idea we were restricted from giving them a choice,” said Byler, noting they were “very vocal” when the trial ended, and the 2% and whole milk options were removed from school coolers.
In post-trial student surveys, 64% reported choosing milk more often. On waste, 60% of students said they had thrown milk away before the trial, but after the trial, only 30% of students said they had thrown milk away.
Over half the students said the trial changed their a la carte beverage purchase habits and another 26% of students said the milk choice may have changed their purchase habits. That’s more than 75% impact.
A whopping 85% of the students said they drink whole milk at home.
Statewide trials would help with the education component identified by Byler in her testimony.
“One of the stumbling points we have is getting the schools on board, getting the foodservice directors on board, getting the management companies to come on board and say ‘yes, this is a win-win. This benefits our students. This benefits our Pennsylvania dairy,’” said Byler.
Federal Guidelines drive the school bus
Eby mentioned the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) as the umbrella driving the school bus. The most recent 2020-25 DGA cycle was covered extensively in Farmshine over the past two years, drawing tens of thousands of comments, questioning why scientific studies on dietary fat were left out of the process.
“After the 2015 DGA cycle, Congress asked the Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to review the process. In 2017, their report cited the need for enhanced transparency and stronger scientific rigor,” said Eby.
“Dairy checkoff promotions that farmers must pay into are affected by these guidelines that the industry heartily applauds when they are released,” said Eby. “Checkoff funding of fat-free and low-fat promotion includes innovations that are now blending low-fat milk with almond beverage and ultrafiltration that allows milk solids to move anywhere and be reconstituted in beverages — Coca Cola-style. Meanwhile, the low-fat milk rules at schools turn children away from milk to other drinks in a beverage market dominated by huge global companies. These drinks do not come close to providing the nutrition of whole milk.”
As important to parents as to dairy farmers
Sebright hit the nail on the head when she said: “I think the issue related to whole milk in schools is as important to parents as it is to dairy farmers because really, it’s all about taste.”
In fact, she said, “whole milk builds lifelong consumers.”
Mentioning research about the benefits of whole milk, Sebright noted that there are “nutrients in whole milk that are not found in skim and non-fat that are important for brain development.”
Her testimony also included the benefits of milk, in general, and how critical it is to make sure the children get that nutrition. Sebright talked about her youngest son, who never liked milk in school. She would pay for the milk, and he would throw it away. He did a 7th grade science project, a chocolate milk taste test.
“He had 27 friends blindly taste the two milks, and all of them chose the whole chocolate milk,” Sebright related. “That’s very telling. A processor would tell you it’s because making a good tasting nonfat chocolate milk is very difficult. The fat in milk adds to the flavor appeal, and when that’s not there, it leaves the cocoa tasting bitter.”
In fact when more fat is removed, more sugar is often added in making chocolate milk to make up for losing the pleasing flavor profile contributed by the fat.
Senator David Argall commented on Sebright’s son’s taste test showing 27 to zero preferred whole over low-fat. “(Businesses) are usually happy with 51-49 or 52-48. But 27 to zero, that’s very strong and really rings out to me,” said Argall.
Speaking for the children
Bringing it back to the kids, Tricia Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County testified: “I want to talk to you about the good stuff. The good stuff is a phrase I have heard many times throughout the years from my daughters and countless school children I have had the privilege of seeing on our farm tours,” said Adams, testifying as a dairy producer and school-involved mother of three teenage daughters, making it clear she was speaking for the children.
“The good stuff is what they all refer to as whole milk, which is standardized at 3.25% fat. Every day since 2010, our children have been denied milk choice in school,” said Adams. “Why are we allowing a wholesome natural food product to be attacked and denied and substituting it with more heavily processed drinks?”
As a dairy farmer, she said: “This is personal. I have seen our industry weather many storms over the years. I have seen many farms shut their doors, and I have seen our future generations turning away from milk because of this no fat/low fat push. As a farmer, I want the product I proudly produce every day of my life to be enjoyed and provided in its naturally best version. Whole milk is known as nature’s most perfect food. Why change it, especially for growing kids? Countless generations before consumed whole milk and benefitted.”
She noted that, “Some in the industry say ‘let’s not rock the boat’ because it’s only a couple percentage points. They say, does it really make a difference? Just serve whole milk at home and 1% at school. Turn it the other way, it’s only a couple percentage points, so give them the good stuff.”
Adams cited documents showing the extra percentages of milk fat allow for better digestion, reducing some lactose intolerance issues. The fat slows the lactose (carbohydrate) absorption for a more favorable rate.
She pointed to studies (many cited in pages 6 through 15 of this document) showing how whole milk consumption helps kids maintain a healthy body weight, stressing the value of milk’s many essential vitamins and minerals, some of them being fat-soluble, so the milk fat allows the body to get the benefit.
Vitamin D absorption, in one trial, for example, was triple for kids drinking whole milk vs. low fat and risk of being overweight was reduced by 40%.
“That’s huge today,” said Adams.
Senators get it.
Chairman Scavello (below, left) had set the stage for the hearing, noting in his opening remarks that farming is the Commonwealth’s number one industry and dairy is 37% of Pennsylvania agriculture.
“Pennsylvania has the second largest number of dairy farms in the nation, only second to Wisconsin,” he said. “The industry supports approximately 52,000 jobs and contributes $14.7 billion to the state’s economy. Given these facts, it is essential that we continue to follow and review important decisions that are made that can have an impact on such an important part of our economy, such as the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools.”
Senator David Argall (R-29th, above, right) said this hearing “begins a serious conversation about what the state can do to encourage our federal partners to drop this arbitrary provision. Many of our dairy farmers are really struggling, and part of this… is due to the fact that in 2010, Congress passed legislation putting restrictive regulations on the consumption of whole milk in schools.”
He observed that in the first two years of that action, 1.2 million fewer students drank milk at lunch, “but they still had access to sugary juices and soda, which offer none of the nutritional value that whole milk does. This isn’t just hurting our dairy farmers, it’s teaching a terrible lesson in nutrition to our students.”
Joining the Policy Committee by zoom (above) was Senator Scott Martin (R-31st), representing Lancaster County. He chairs the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee and noted the timeliness of this public hearing topic.
“From an educational standpoint…as a large consumer of milk when I was growing up, it’s amazing from a policy perspective that we ended up where we are trying to teach our kids good habits to what it is now the selection of things that I would put in the category of not so healthy and not having those benefits. What we are teaching and providing, combined with the devastating impact on our family farms? I truly hope we can make inroads in getting the federal prohibition removed,” said Chairman Martin.
“It’s heartbreaking to see as dairy farmers struggle, they are out there educating the public on the nutritional value (of whole milk). You can even see homemade signs or bales of hay wrapped in plastic, talking about the importance of the nutritional value of whole milk,” Martin observed.
Grassroots response is all volunteer
In his brief testimony, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey talked about the start of that ‘homemade’ grassroots campaign, when Berks County farmer Nelson Troutman painted his first wrapped round bale: Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free.
“That was the start of this grassroots dairy committee and it’s been going ever since,” said Morrissey about several of the volunteers testifying on panels during the hearing. “The major point is choice for our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren… and this area of milk marketing where our farmers have been mistreated, financially. Even on the news yesterday was about the milk prices going up… but not at the farm. The tank truck backs up to their farm, takes their milk. They are business people, just like I am. The truck backs up, takes the milk out of the bulk tank, and they don’t know what they’re going to be paid for it.”
Testifying from the 97 Milk education effort and in her work with dairy farmers through R&J Dairy Consulting, not to mention as a mother with young children, Jackie Behr gave a quick summary of the grassroots whole milk education efforts online at 97milk.com and through the social media platforms. She volunteers in that effort.
“Consumers are savvy. They want to learn. I can’t begin to share all of the countless responses we have received from people saying, ‘I’m going to switch to whole milk,’” said Behr. “Since removing the option of whole milk from schools, we have lost a generation of milk drinkers.”
“Yes, of course I give my kids whole milk,” said Behr. “I have done the taste test with my kids. I gave them skim, 1%, and they all have looked at me and said: ‘what is this?’ My kids taste the difference and I want to know how many other kids taste the difference as well. As a mother, I know if we’re going to give something healthy, they need to like it. Our dairy farms are struggling. I see it every day in my business. Something has got to change or we will keep losing our dairy farms in Pennsylvania.”
A healthy child should be our number one priority
It is really the children who were front and center in this hearing. The testimony of 11 people opened eyes and impressed senators, who confirmed how valuable it was to understand the federal issue in order to begin navigating it at the state level.
“We have a responsibility to help our children be the best they can be and allow them to perform to their highest potential. We should want no kid to be hungry,” Adams testified. “Milk fat allows a body naturally to be satiated, so children can concentrate in school. If a hungry, growing child does not get that feeling, they will turn to sugary snacks or drinks to fill the void. For some kids, the school lunch is the only real meal they get in a day. Some, our daughters included, get two meals at school.”
Whole milk satisfies, she added: “A healthy child should be our number one priority, please let us in Pennsylvania lead by example.”
Good morning Honorable Chairman Scavello and Senate Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify on whole milk choice in schools. My name is Sherry Bunting. As an ag journalist 40 years and former Eastern Lancaster County School Board member 8 years, not to mention as a mother and a nana, I see this from many sides.
From the dairy side, fluid milk sales had their steepest decline over the past decade as seen in the chart (above) with my written statement. There was a decline slowly before that, but you can see the drop off after 2010.
That was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Two years prior, the national dairy checkoff, which farmers must pay into, signed a memorandum of understanding with USDA to advance the department’s Dietary Guidelines using the checkoff’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program in schools — promoting only fat-free and low-fat dairy.
(Note: This was confirmed in a May 2021 dairy checkoff press conference, stating that “DMI has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition in 2008,” and that Gen Z is the generation DMI has been working on since the launch of Fuel Up to Play 60, which was followed by the formation of GENYOUth and the signing of the memorandum of understanding, MOU, with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in that 2008-10 time period.)
By 2011, USDA had their data showing schools that voluntarily gave up whole and 2% milk were meeting the Department’s Dietary Guidelines more consistently — on paper — as far as fat content across the ‘served’ meals and the ‘a la carte’ offerings, combined.
With this data, USDA targeted whole and 2% milk, specifically, for mandatory removal from school grounds during school hours by 2012.
In fact, the ‘competing foods’ regulatory language at the time stated that even if you wanted to have a vending machine (with whole milk) as a fundraiser for FFA, it could only be open for two weeks for the fundraiser, maybe three. The rest of the time it had to be closed between the hours of midnight before the start of the school day and 30 minutes after the end of the school day.
This is how we are treating whole milk.
That looked good on paper, but the reality? Since 2008, the rate of overweight and diabetes has climbed fastest among teens and children after a decade of stipulations that you can only have whole milk until you’re 2 years old — and in the poorest demographics, who rely the most on school lunch and breakfast. This fact was acknowledged during a U.S. Senate Ag hearing on Childhood Nutrition in 2019, where senators even referenced a letter from 750 retired Generals sounding the alarm that young adults are too overweight to serve.
This is a federal and state issue, and I might add, a national security issue. Our state has an interest in the outcomes.
While Pennsylvania school doors are closed to whole milk — a fresh product most likely to be sourced from Pennsylvania farms — their doors are wide open to processed drinks profiting large global beverage and foodservice companies.
What the kids buy after throwing away the skimmed milk does not come close, as you’ve heard, to offering the minerals, vitamins and 8 grams of complete protein in a cup of whole milk. What’s on paper is not being realized by growing bodies, brains and immune systems. Not to mention the milkfat satiates and helps with absorption of some of those nutrients. A wise foodservice director who saw this coming told me in the late 1990s, while I was serving on the School Board, he said: “when too much fat is removed from a child’s diet, sugar craving and intake increase.” Some of the latest data show he was right.
School milk sales are 6 to 8% of total U.S. fluid milk sales. However, this represents, as you’ve heard, the loss of a whole generation of milk drinkers in one decade.
The Northeast Council of Farmer Cooperatives looked at school milk sales from 2013 through 2016 and reported that 288 million fewer half pints of milk were sold in schools during that period. This does not include half-pints that students were served but then discarded.
This situation impacts Pennsylvania’s milk market, farm-level milk price, and future viability — a factor in Pennsylvania losing 1,974 farms; 75,000 cows and 1.8 billion in production since 2009 – rippling through other businesses, ag infrastructure, revenue and jobs. We are, actually now, 8th in milk production in the U.S. If you go back 15 years, we were 4th. As of last year, we were passed by Minnesota.
The fat free / low fat push devalues milkfat as a component of the price paid to farms, making it a cheaper ingredient for other products. Our kids can have whole milk. There is no shortage of milk fat because if there was, producers would be paid a fairer price that reflected its value.
While the flaws in the Dietary Guidelines process would take a whole hearing in itself, Pennsylvania consumers see the benefits of milk fat in study after study and are choosing whole milk for their families. Redner’s Warehouse Markets, for example, reported to me their whole milk sales volumes are up 14.5%. Nationally, whole milk sales surpassed all other categories in 2019 for the first time in decades. So parents are choosing whole milk, and we saw that during Covid, and even before Covid.
Today, children receive one or two meals at school, and there’s a bill actually being considered by Congress to make three meals and a snack universal at school. Then what?
Many parents don’t even know that whole milk choice is prohibited. Even the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, during a listening session on various issues, had a request brought up to legalize whole milk in schools. Three of the senators expressed their shock. One asked the person testifying — who is both a dairy farmer and an attorney — how could this be true? They thought she was joking.
(In fact, skepticism prompted Politifact to investigate. They confirmed, indeed, Lorraine Lewandrowski’s statement — “Make it legal for a New York state student to have a glass of fresh whole milk, a beautiful food from a beautiful land” — received the completely true rating on Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter because, yes, there is a federal prohibition of whole milk in schools.)
There’s just not enough people understanding that this is happening. Many people think the kids do have the choice, but they don’t.
My petition, that I started in late 2019, has nearly 25,000 signatures online. The links are with my written statement — and 5000 were mailed to me by snail-mail — so over 30,000 total. Nearly half of those are from Pennsylvania, and New York would be second as far as signatures, but we have signatures from every state in the nation.
When I looked through to vet it, to balance it and make sure we didn’t have people from other countries in these numbers, I started to see who was signing, from all walks of life — from farmers, to parents, to teachers, doctors, and on and on. Even state lawmakers, I recognized some names on there. The whole milk choice petition has opened eyes.
Thank you for this hearing, and please help bring the choice of whole milk back to our schools. Our children and dairy farmers are counting on us.
If I could just have a couple more seconds here, this is personal for me, as a grandmother. One of my grandchildren is lactose intolerant, or I should say, that’s how it would seem, but she has no trouble drinking whole milk at home. Her doctor says she may be lactose intolerant because she keeps coming home from school and having stomach problems at the end of the day. She now is not drinking the milk at school, just drinking whole milk at home. She can’t drink the skimmed milk, and there’s really some science behind that.
A professor in North Carolina (Richard C. Theuer, Ph.D.) mentioned this role of milk fat actually slowing the rate of carbohydrate absorption — which is the lactose. (As a member of the National Society for Nutrition and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, Theuer addressed this in at least two public comments on the Dietary Guidelines Federal Register docket, once in 2018 and then again in 2019.)
I’ll end my comment here, sorry I went a little over.
— At the conclusion of my time, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman Mario Scavello said this was a good place for me to end my testimony because “what we’ve heard here today is children are not drinking the skim milk and the low-fat milk. We’ve got to get this corrected, the more I listen to this,” he said. Then, turning to Nelson Troutman on the panel in regard to the 97 Milk education effort, Scavello added: “By the way, I did see that 97 percent bale. Thank you for explaining it because I thought, what is this about? I could see the bales while driving on I-80.”
WASHINGTON — Long on transformation framework and short on meaningful details, USDA announced this week (June 8) that it will invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains. This follows the June 4 announcement of over $1 billion for ‘healthy food’ and security infrastructure.
What these words mean is still the subject of USDA gathering input through public comments due June 21 and a series of stakeholder meetings. The first one was a 30-minute webinar attended virtually by over 3000 people representing food and agriculture organizations the day after the funding announcement (June 9).
These announcements are billed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as part of the “Build Back Better” initiative to be funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (passed by the 116th Congress and signed by President Trump in January) and the American Rescue Plan Act (passed by the 117th Congress and signed by President Biden in March.)
Vilsack will co-chair, along with Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, the Biden administration’s new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force for a “whole of government response.”
According to USDA, its investment announcements will include a mix of grants, loans and “innovative financing mechanisms” for the food production, processing, distribution and market access priorities that will “tackle the climate crisis and help communities that have been left behind.”
It has been six months since CAA funds were appropriated and three months since ARPA funding was authorized. These relief and support funds passed by two sessions of Congress and signed by two Presidents are now sitting in wait of a task force establishing supply chain transformation priorities after public comments and industry stakeholder meetings.
Meanwhile, dairy producers and other sectors of agriculture are still waiting for details about relief that was to some degree spelled out in the prior congressional language of these Acts.
This includes waiting for USDA’s implementation of what was supposed to be an expanded base option for dairy producers in the Dairy Margin Coverage program; waiting for participation details for the Dairy Donation Program that is supposed to be retroactive; and waiting for a response from USDA to the bipartisan request by Senators seeking relief payments for dairy farmers for the first half of 2021 retroactive to January 1.
In the detailed request for public comment, USDA is making it clear that the CAA and ARPA funds will be spent on transformation, not relief. Guiding the transformation is President Biden’s February Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chain.
USDA says it is interested in comments spanning everything from animal, soil, plant and climate health, traceability, monitoring and technologies to agricultural inputs, energy, markets, storage, distribution, and digital security.
“We always knew this, but the pandemic really highlighted it for the rest of the country: Our food system is brittle, and any shock to it can have devastating effects down the chain. Now is the time — not to go back to normal — but to build a new normal,” said Mae Wu, Deputy Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs during the first stakeholder webinar this week.
“Before we dealt with the pandemic, we had a food system in which nearly 90% of our farms did not generate the majority of the income for the farm families operating those farms. We had a food and farm system in which soil erosion was occurring at 10 times the rate that soil was being replenished,” said Vilsack as the first stakeholder webinar kicked off.
“We all know we have a substantial number of waterways that are currently impaired, and we also appreciate the fact that we had a food system that was prepared to address climate change but not yet fully embracing the opportunity side of that claim,” Vilsack continued. “So we had a system that needed help. We had a system that also was seeing rapid consolidation and a lack of competition. Then Covid hit and by virtue of Covid we learned that what we thought was a resilient system, really wasn’t resilient at all and had a difficult time shifting from food going into foodservice to going into food assistance.”
Citing the President’s February Executive Order, Vilsack said the focus of the new task force, he co-chairs, is to strengthen supply chains by “beginning the process of transformation.”
In the Federal Register document, USDA states: “(Our) initial thinking includes, but is not limited to, funding, through a combination of grants or loans, for needs such as: supply chain retooling to address multiple needs at once (i.e., achieving both climate benefits and addressing supply gaps or vulnerabilities concurrently), expansion of local and regional food capacity and distribution (e.g., hubs, cooperative development, cold chain improvements, infrastructure), development of local and regional meat and poultry processing and seafood processing and distribution, and food supply chain capacity, building for socially disadvantaged communities.”
In one subsection, USDA notes that it is interested in comments on “the availability of substitutes or alternative sources for critical goods and materials…” For example, USDA says it “encourages commenters to consider agricultural products that could be domestically grown but are not practically available today for various reasons, and to describe whether and how such products (or their alternatives) could be made available through supply chain resilience efforts.”
To-date, there are 297 public comments on the docket. A quick look through 55 that are viewable presently includes many food banks and feeding programs, some mentioning dairy, but few comments are logged from dairy organizations to-date.
For its part, the National Farmers Organization attached a document and stated: “The farmer dumping milk needs a market today, not in the long run. The person standing in a food line needs something to eat today, not in the long run. We need to look more carefully at what is going on if we are to understand, and effectively address, the dilemma of too much milk on one end of the supply chain and not enough dairy products on the other.”
Vilsack (who worked as a dairy checkoff executive for the four years between being Ag Secretary in the Obama and Biden administrations) also referenced milk dumping, saying the dairy industry had bottlenecks as foodservice demand shut down while retail demand for consumer-packaged goods skyrocketed.
In fact, in a recent Fortune magazine interview, Vilsack said the cost of $1.50 per gallon to put milk in a jug created a disincentive to donate excess milk instead of dumping it.
However, in reality, there was more to it than that in parts of the country where Governors brought the curtain down on the economy to strict degrees of people ordered to stay home, while also scolding them in public service announcements for buying too much food. Retailers hit the brakes by putting purchase limits on milk, butter and other dairy products, just as processors loaded up the silos with milk for the retail surge, only to find their retail orders came to a screeching halt as the purchase limits contributed to backing milk up from plant storage into farm pipelines faster than donation efforts could get organized or find facilities to bottle or process.
Facility issues were also cited at the time, in terms of separated cream filling storage silos with nowhere to go as butter capacity was busy switching to pull bulk butter from storage and convert it to print butter, and butter imports skyrocketed. It took a while to unwind the institutional governance of low-fat milk into making more whole milk available as consumers could choose. And it took a while for governments to allow institutions (like schools) to temporarily give whole milk. The result, in the Northeast especially, was a huge volume of dumped milk.
Among the viewable comments to USDA at the Federal Register, so far, are groups citing industry concentration and consolidation.
In its comments, the Montana Cattlemen’s Association pointed out that Secretary Vilsack, along with then Attorney General Eric Holder, held concentration and antitrust listening sessions across the U.S. during the Obama administration, and nothing ever came of it. One of those USDA / DOJ national listening sessions was on dairy, specifically, in Madison, Wisconsin in 2009.
The National Grocers Association echoed these concerns, detailing the way a few global companies already control food retail, foodservice, food processing and distribution, and how this affects farmers and ranchers, independent retailers and restaurants, and thereby affects regional food supply chains, and ultimately consumers and America’s security.
Both the cattlemen and grocers call for specific actions that would increase competition, regional processing and market access and thereby make the U.S. food system more secure and critical supply chains more resilient.
During the stakeholder webinar, Vilsack addressed a question on market competition by saying USDA will “first make sure the markets that do exist are as open and transparent as possible” by looking at the current rules along with other federal agencies and taking any steps to rectify. But he also pointed to developing new markets.
At the other end of the public comment spectrum, groups like the Good Food Institute, a lobbying organization for plant-based and cell-cultured replacements for animal-sourced foods, paint a picture of how their streamlined lab-style production through pop-up bioreactors and fermentation vats in rural, suburban and urban areas can be built to provide supply chain resiliency and food security. GFI also claims that their models would be a climate mitigation strategy.
GFI addressed each of the USDA bullet points on supply chain resilience, climate action and new market opportunities to describe why the CAA and ARPA funds should be used for research and infrastructure that shifts away from animal agriculture to plant-based and cell-cultured through digital and genetic technologies that are already within the USDA Agricultural Research Service wheelhouse.
GFI lays out their description of how recombinant proteins and GMOs, along with the storability of frozen cells and dry plant-based powders, can be turned into food quickly, and in exact amounts needed, and can be grown and manufactured anywhere — without waiting for animals to grow — leaving land available for so-called ‘climate strategies’ and biodiversity.
But, they say, research and infrastructure are needed to make their science-fiction novel come true. This, despite the huge investments of tech industry billionaires in these replacement technologies, and the way the largest meat and dairy processors are diversifying, to brand – and blend – such alternatives to look, taste, and feel like the real thing.
Interestingly, the food economy is, right now, dealing with supply chain disruptions and inflationary price hikes on animal-sourced products from eggs and milk to bacon, beef, and chicken wings. The price squeeze is having a big impact on independent grocers, independent restaurants, and consumers. At the same time, prices paid to dairy and livestock producers are turning lower just as farmers and ranchers were hoping to get back on their collective feet.
That paradox is not sustainable nor resilient for producers or consumers, but growing cells in bioreactors or harvesting yeast-excrement from fermentation vats — instead of animals on farms —simply gives even more control of food to even fewer entities that would control the genetic alterations that make it scientifically possible.
USDA states in its press release that it wants to address competition and small and medium sized processing capacity and that it wants fairness, competition, equity, and access for producers and consumers, while accomplishing climate mitigation at the same time.
The question is: What do these buzz words actually mean? The June 9 stakeholder webinar gave a glimpse.
Vilsack explained that USDA is putting the series of funding announcements into a series of four supply chain ‘buckets’: production, processing, distribution / aggregation and markets / consumers.
He said USDA will begin by providing assistance for beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, including the debt relief for farmers of color.
“We’ll look for ways to provide assistance for those who work on the farms and those who work in the processing facilities. We’ll look for how we can encourage those transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture if they choose to do so,” said Vilsack. “All of this will be designed to create greater resilience in terms of the number of people available to farm and the types of farming systems that we have. You’ll also see investments in urban agriculture.”
Vilsack said on the food processing side, USDA is “very focused” on ways to create more options for farmers by “shoring up and expanding” existing small and medium size processing to create more markets for farmers.
He highlighted “food hubs” in the distribution bucket and “access to healthy foods” in the consumer bucket.
Answering a question later about how government grant-writing is beyond the scope of most farms, especially small farms, Vilsack said: “One way for folks to get expertise and capacity is to join with others who are similarly situated to form a food hub to aggregate products. There is money for food hubs in this.”
Calling the Dairy Donation Program an investment in the production / producer bucket, and referencing it four times in the webinar, Vilsack said the DDP “will enable producers to more quickly shift in the event of a disruption from foodservice or retail that might not be available for whatever reason into food assistance mode.”
He identified the need to “significantly invest in storage and refrigeration infrastructure to accept significant quantities of food to be stored for a period of time and distributed over a period of time. Right now, we are not equipped to handle a great influx of meat, and produce all at one time, and as a result, animals were destroyed and milk was dumped,” he said.
Vilsack said another way to look at USDA’s incremental roll out of the CAA and ARPA funds is that it reflects “how we are going about the transformation of our food and farm system. We need to continue to invest to make sure there are multiple ways for people to get into the farming business and to stay in business.”
To be profitable, he said, “means we need to develop more new and better markets to be invested in. We want to make sure it is sustainable, circular, regenerative in its approach. We want to make sure it is equitable in its application so that people of all races, ethnicities, gender and so forth are able to access the programs completely at USDA,” said Vilsack.
For producers, allied industry, consumers and organizations, now is the time to visit the USDA Federal Register Docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document/AMS-TM-21-0034-0001 to read the guidelines for commenting and submit a “Supply Chain Comment” referencing Docket AMS-TM-21-0034-001 by June 21, 2021.
Comments may also be sent to Dr. Melissa R. Bailey, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, Room 2055-S, STOP 0201, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250-0201. For further information about how to comment and the guidelines for commenting, contact Dr. Bailey by phone at 202-205-9356 or email email@example.com
(Author’s Note: The pandemic revealed that the institutional feeding models replete with anti-fat rules based on un-scientific Dietary Guidelines are part of the supply chain disruption problem. Governmental and non-governmental organizations continue to try to systemize food distribution into dietary lanes that don’t reflect the science or consumer attitudes about healthy fat and animal protein. Now ‘climate’ is being used as a potential animal-dilution driver. When someone wants to give families a gallon of whole milk (instead of fat-free or low-fat) when they pick up the school lunches for their children during a pandemic, the last thing any governmental or non-governmental organization should be telling them is “you can’t do that, it’s against the rules,” or pushing them into an adjacent parking lot so they aren’t “next to” the institutionally rule-inundated food. That is just one aspect I plan to write about in commenting to the USDA. Loosen those dietary restraints that give all the power to the global consolidators in foodservice, processing and distribution. Let free-enterprise and good will work for good.)
By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine April 2021
EPHRATA, Pa. – “This organization is getting it done,” said U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.-15th). Thompson is the Republican leader of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and he gave the efforts of 97 Milk LLC and the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee two thumbs-up. Rep.
Thompson was a special guest addressing the group of mostly dairy farmers attending the 97 Milk reorganizational meeting at Mt. Airy Fire Hall near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021.
The groups’ efforts were formed in early 2019, after Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman painted his first round bale with the words: “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free”.
At the 97milk.com and facebook page @97milk, are the words: “We believe… in supporting local dairy farmers. We believe we can make a difference by sharing facts, benefits, and the good taste of whole milk so consumers can make informed decisions.”
According to Congressman Thompson, the battle to improve milk demand and to legalize whole milk choice in schools has two fronts – legislative policy and milk messaging.
“97 Milk is leading the way in the nation on messaging. Going from bales and beyond, what you have done is just incredible,” the Congressman said. “Keep doing what you are doing with the well-designed combination of influencing, marketing and providing factual information.”
In fact, Rep. Thompson took home and now proudly displays a “Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard sign in his front yard.
Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee chairman Bernie Morrissey has been printing and distributing hundreds of these yard signs with the donations of area agribusinesses, other organizations and individuals.
Rep. Thompson represents 24% of Pennsylvania’s land mass across 14 counties. Even before becoming the lead Republican in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, dairy has always been a key farm focus for him, and bringing the choice of whole milk back to schools a key issue. As Ag Committee Ranking Member, he now also represents all of agriculture with responsiveness across the nation.
He reported that “progress is being made. But we are starting in the hole, not from a neutral position. We have lost a generation of milk drinkers since whole milk was demonized and removed from schools in 2010.”
His bill, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, could change that. H.R. 1861 is a bipartisan bill that has been reintroduced in this 2021-22 session of Congress with cosponsor Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from New York. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors.
In fact, among those attending the meeting in Pennsylvania was a contingent of folks from upstate New York looking to start a 97 Milk chapter there.
Also in attendance was David Lapp of Blessings of Hope. He confirmed that their partnership with 97 Milk was “a big success,” raising over $70,524 of which $16,000 remains for processing and buying milk. So far, those funds processed or purchased 45,000 gallons of whole milk for those in need, and over 20,000 packaged gallons were additionally donated during the pandemic.
Blessings of Hope was also involved in the Farmers to Families Food Box program through USDA, distributing a million gallons since May, of which Lapp said, 90% was whole milk!
GN Hursh, a Lancaster County dairy farmer and 97 Milk chairman, thanked everyone for doing their part to educate and promote whole milk. Referring to Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman as “the seed” of the 97 Milk movement painting the first round bales with Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free, he asked Troutman to introduce the Congressman during the meeting — an honor Troutman put in the way only he can: “I never thought I would be introducing the Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee in ‘downtown’ Mt. Airy.”
That got a laugh from the group sitting in the rural town fire hall of northern Lancaster County.
The humble and persistent work of 97 Milk and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee took root in southeast Pennsylvania, but is also being joined-in by dairy producers and supporters across the state and nation, noticed by dignitaries and officials in policy and legislative arenas and reaching every-day families and consumers across the nation and around the world.
The needle is being moved.
Marketing manager Jackie Behr said the key is to keep bringing ideas forward for the website, social media and events. She took the attendees through 97 Milk’s digital presence step by step and showed how the goal is to keep things fresh and keep bringing information and facts to the eyes of the growing traffic coming to the website.
Behr showed how the website and social media together give facts about whole milk, fun activities, recipes, and a personal connection of consumers to farmers.
“We always want to have new facts and something fun,” said Behr. “We rely on you to send us news articles and ideas that we can put on the website and post. We also rely on farmers to send in photos and thoughts and stories to keep it fresh.”
She reminded everyone that the website has a download section to download and print things, as well as a store to buy banners, t-shirts, hats and more. The store also has new items coming in to keep it fresh.
The Dairy Question Desk has been popular. “We want to be transparent and we want people asking questions,” said Behr.
While website visits are up, store purchases of promotional items and donations to 97 Milk are down. The 97 Milk board, including Behr, and others who assist at times with the social media work, as well as everyone doing events and other campaigns, are volunteers.
In the past 28 days, alone, the website had 1044 users and 2054 page views – 77% of them are new users. Businesses that have mentioned 97 Milk on their websites have driven traffic to 97milk.com as well.
This is something Behr wants more agribusinesses to consider. It’s an easy way to support the movement, just by putting a link to 97milk.com on a business website to support dairy farmers and milk education. This improves searchability for 97milk.com when people look for information about milk.
The top referral sites over the past year were Farmshine, FM Browns, Lotus Web Designs, R&J Dairy Consulting, Sauder Brothers, and Sensenig’s Feed Mill.
Social media data show that every age group is represented in the traffic, and followers are 60% women, 40% men, with over 400,000 people reached in the past 28 days. Some months the million-mark has been reached!
“This is all free advertising,” said Behr about the posts done six days a week. She said 97 Milk has not paid to “boost” any social media posts.
A good post about something people are interested in and don’t know about, attracts that wider reach, according to Behr.
“We are making connections and keeping the message positive,” she said. “People are responding. Since the pandemic, we see opportunity in expanding our reach because people want to support local farms and small businesses. We are giving them the simple facts that they don’t know and aren’t getting anywhere els.”
It was reported during the meeting that whole milk sales nationwide were up 2.6% in 2020 and up 1% in 2019. Flavored whole milk was up over 8% in 2019 and off by 1% in 2020, perhaps as a function of offerings more than demand. It’s important to note that whole milk sales are the largest volume category and these are USDA volume statistics, and 2% reduced-fat milk is the second largest volume category.
On a value basis, other reports put the whole milk increase at more than 5% over two years. In addition 2% milk sales have gained, but whole milk is still number one for 2019 and 2020. In the Northeast Milk Marketing Area, 2% milk sales grew by 7%, while whole milk grew 2.6%.
In the heart of the area in Pennsylvania where the 97 Milk movement started, at least two large supermarket chains have confirmed a 10 to 14% increase in whole milk sales in 2020. This shows the potential a wider reach can have as the 97 Milk movement grows.
These gains in whole and 2% milk sales volume have helped stabilize the overall fluid milk volume decline that was steepest from 2010 through 2019, after the choice of whole milk was prohibited in schools.
While talking about his Whole Milk for Health Kids Act legislation, Thompson referenced this concern also, saying that the removal of whole milk from schools resulted in losing a whole generation of milk drinkers, and some of that generation are or will soon be raising the next generation.
Both he and Behr mentioned “ripple effects.” This is an opportunity where whole milk education can impact whether the ripple effect is positive or negative for farmers and families.
When asked about current Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s position on getting whole milk back in schools after Vilsack was Secretary when it was removed, Thompson explained that Congress should take most of that blame. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 when Speaker Pelosi was Speaker of the House. He said Michelle Obama had little to do with this move. He also noted that he has had discussions with Secretary Vilsack before he was confirmed by the Senate.
“The Secretary knows my priorities,” said Thompson. During his time bringing news from Washington, he touched on milk identity labeling, Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing, and other dairy-related policy, but focused on the issues around legalizing whole milk choice in schools.
He also explained that any legislation on school nutrition must come through the Education and Labor Committee.
“I wish school nutrition legislation was in our Ag Committee jurisdiction. We would have fixed it by now. That’s something we can look into,” said Thompson, blaming bad science and those on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) Committee with an agenda. He talked about working toward Congress having a way to approve DGAs, and his desire for hearings on the DGA process.
“To get things done and make them last, we have to work on both sides of the aisle,” the Congressman said, noting how tight the votes are between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Already, the list of cosponsors this session show interest among members of the Education and Labor committee.
Thompson also mentioned looking at other ways to legislatively approach the school beverage issue.
When asked what producers can do to help move the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act forward, Thompson said: “Keep doing what you are doing.”
In the business portion of the 97 Milk meeting April 6, chairman GN Hursh talked about how the group has navigated the pandemic to reach the public with the good news about whole milk.
Operated by volunteers and funded by donations and the 97milk.com store, 97 Milk accomplishes a lot with a little.
Treasurer Mahlon Stoltzfus reported income of $11,000 matching expenses of $11,000 and noted that donations have slowed even as progress in the group’s mission has increased.
Hursh asked producers to get involved. He noted that with all of the positive things happening, the key to keeping the momentum going is producer involvement.
Behr explained how important it is for dairy farmers to send in pictures and stories from their farms and ideas for social media posts.
For example, one idea that came from a farmer was to simply picture a red-cap gallon jug of whole milk and ask: “Reach for the red cap. Drink whole milk.” The post has been extremely popular and widely shared both times it was used.
During the meeting, board elections were conducted. Remaining as chairman is Hursh of Ephrata, with Stoltzfus of Bird In Hand remaining as treasurer. Outgoing secretary is Lois Beiler of Lititz, and incoming secretary is Chris Landis, Stevens. Outgoing campaign coordinator is Jordan Zimmerman of East Earl, and incoming campaign manager is Mark Leid, New Holland. Jackie Behr of R&J Dairy Consulting will remain on the board as marketing manager.
“This effort is not about just one person. It’s everyone doing their part,” said Hursh.
“There are three parts to this organization: website and social media; promotional materials and events; and the third is the key that could be missing,” he said, passing around a mirror: You.
Will third time be charm? Will Penna. and N.Y. consider state legislation?
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 19, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (Pa.-15th) wasted no time reintroducing the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in the 117th congressional session. Although the official text of the bill introduced last Thursday, March 11 is not yet available, Thompson noted in February it would include a few structural improvements over the earlier versions.
Thompson is now the Republican Leader of the House Agriculture Committee, and he cosponsored the bipartisan whole milk bill, H.R. 1861 with Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19th), a Democrat.
Essentially, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act allows for unflavored and flavored whole milk to be offered in school cafeterias. This choice is currently prohibited under USDA rules of implementation from the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that Congress passed 11 years ago to tie school lunch and other USDA food nutrition services more closely to the low-fat and fat-free stipulations from decades of USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines. These DGAs continue to ignore the science about milkfat and saturated fat – especially where children are concerned.
“Milk provides nine essential nutrients as well as a great deal of long-term health benefits. Due to the baseless demonization of milk over the years, we’ve lost nearly an entire generation of milk drinkers, and these young people are missing out on the benefits of whole milk,” said Rep. Thompson in a statement last Friday.
“It is my hope the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will give children a wide variety of milk options and bolster milk consumption — a win-win for growing children and America’s dairy farmers,” Rep. Thompson stated.
Rep. Delgado added: “The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will help young people maintain a healthy diet while supporting our upstate dairy farmers and processors. I am proud to lead this bipartisan effort to provide more choices for healthy and nutritious milk in schools. This legislation is good for young people and good for our dairy producers in today’s tough farm economy.”
Arden Tewksbury of Progressive Agriculture Organization has been working on this issue for many years. In addition to dairy advocacy, the retired dairy farmer is also a decades-long school board director in northern Pennsylvania.
Rep. Thompson indicated last month that he would restructure the proposed legislation for reintroduction this session, with some tweaks that should make it more workable for school foodservice directors.
He explains that in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which amended nutrition standards in the School Lunch Program. Among the changes, the law mandated that school lunches and other government-supported feeding programs be tied directly to the DGAs. The USDA at that time promulgated rules requiring flavored milk to be offered only as fat-free, and that unflavored milk could only be fat-free or 1% low-fat milk.
Schools are audited by USDA for dietary compliance, and their compliance record affects not just their school food reimbursements, but also the educational funds a district receives for federal mandates.
USDA, in 2017, allowed schools to offer 1% low-fat flavored milk. This was a small positive change after statistics showed schools served 232 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2014 to 2016, and school milk was among the most discarded items in school waste studies conducted by USDA and EPA in conjunction with other organizations.
In fact, a Pennsylvania school — working with the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — offered milk at all fat levels to middle and high school students in a 2019-20 school year trial. Their findings showed students chose whole milk 3 to 1 over 1% low-fat milk. During the trial, the school’s milk sales grew by 65% while the volume of discarded milk declined by 95%. This meant more students were choosing to drink milk, and far fewer students were discarding their milk and buying something else.
Tricia Adams, a member of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, sees firsthand the response of children and teens when offered whole milk. “When we have school and community tours at the farm, we offer whole milk. The children call it ‘the good milk!’” said Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County, Pa. “We thank Congressman Thompson for his tireless efforts on this issue. As dairy farmers, we work hard to produce high quality, wholesome, nutritious milk, and as parents, we want kids to be able to choose the milk they love so they get the benefits milk has to offer.”
Jackie Behr, of 97 Milk, also sees the support for whole milk through the organization’s social media platforms. “We know how good whole milk is, especially for children,” said Behr. “We see the support in emails, comments and messages from the public. The science shows the benefits of whole milk, and today, more families are choosing whole milk to drink at home. Children should have the right to choose whole milk at school.”
Whole milk choice in schools has been an important signature piece of legislation for Rep. Thompson because of the triple-impact he said he believes it will have on the health of children, the economics of dairy farming and the sustenance of rural communities.
The bill’s predecessor in the 2019-20 legislative session garnered 43 cosponsors in the House.
Starting anew in the 2021-22 congressional session, the bill will need to amass cosponsors in the coming months. A companion bill in the Senate would also be helpful because the school lunch rules come legislatively through the Committee on Education and Labor in the House and through the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs in the Senate.
What’s new this time is that the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat published a feature story Friday about the 2021 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and the School Nutrition Association made this the top story in their weekly newsletter to school foodservice director members this week. That’s good news.
Additional good news came with the official public support voiced by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). In a press statement released by Rep. Thompson’s office last Friday, March 12, leaders of both organizations commented.
“The recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans reaffirmed dairy’s central role in providing essential nutrients, including those of public health concern. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that 79% of 9-13-year-olds don’t meet the recommended intake for dairy,” stated NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern. “We commend Representatives Thompson and Delgado for introducing the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act. Whole milk provides a valuable way for children to obtain dairy’s nutritional benefits as part of a healthy eating pattern. This bill will help provide our children the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.”
On behalf of IDFA, CEO Michael Dykes DVM thanked the representatives for their leadership on this bill “to allow schools more flexibility in offering the wholesome milk varieties that children and teens enjoy at home. Expanding milk options in schools helps ensure students get the 11 essential nutrients daily that only milk provides, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and potassium,” Dykes said.
A petition organized and promoted by Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — in direct support of the earlier versions of this legislation to ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ — garnered over 30,000 signatures in 2019-20 – over 24,000 electronically online as well as over 6,000 by mail through Farmshine.
In recent weeks, the online petition has picked up new life as it has been mentioned in hearings and informal conversations with state lawmakers — especially in Pennsylvania and New York — and has been mentioned recently by food, nutrition and agriculture advocates on social media.
The whole milk petition effort has also gathered over 5000 letters of support in addition to the 30,000-plus signatures in 2019-20. These letters and submitted comments, online and by mail, came from school boards, town boards, county commissioners, school nurses, doctors, dieticians, professors, veterinarians, teachers, coaches, athletes, school foodservice directors, parents, students, and citizens at large.
The entire bundle of signatures, comments and letters were previously digitized by the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk and uploaded at each public comment opportunity during the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process. Petition packets were also provided digitally and in hard copy to key members of Congress as well as the USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary in fall 2019 and spring 2020.
The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk plan to revitalize the petition as an effort to amass even more public support for whole milk choice in schools. Interestingly, this is a difficult undertaking given that the majority of Americans do not even realize — and sometimes disbelieve — that their children and grandchildren currently do not have a choice and are forced to consume fat-free or 1% low-fat milk as their only milk options because whole milk cannot even be offered ‘a la carte’.
During a New York State Senate Ag Committee hearing last month, agricultural law attorney and dairy producer Lorraine Lewandrowski asked New York State Senators to consider state-level legislation to make it legal to offer whole milk in schools as a starting point vs. federal jurisdiction. Her request was met with dumbfounded shock that this was even an issue, and some indication that it was worth taking a look at.
This week, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey — chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee — met with leaders in the Pennsylvania State Senate. He reports that state legislation to allow whole milk in schools was a top priority in that discussion.
In fact, Nelson Troutman, originator of the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales has urged states to get involved on this issue from the beginning.
“We can’t fix everything at the national level, we have to save Pennsylvania,” said Troutman, a Berks County, Pennsylvania dairy farmer.
The 97 Milk education effort that became a grassroots groundswell after Troutman painted his original round bale initially focused on Pennsylvania. However, the online and social media presence of 97milk.com and @97Milk on facebook since February 2019 has become nationwide, even global, in reach and participation.
For two years, Morrissey has garnered agribusiness support for various banners, yard signs and other tangible signs of support for whole milk in schools. Requests have come in from other states. The 97 Milk group also operates solely on donations and offers several options for showing support at their online store, where purchase requests come in from across the country as well. In addition, farm photos and ideas have come into 97 Milk from producers across the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West.
In much the same way, the 30,000-plus petition supporting the choice of whole milk in schools has had heavy participation in Pennsylvania and New York. However, signatures, comments and letters have been received at various levels from all 50 states. (A small portion of signatures even came from Canada, Australia, Mexico, England, Japan, India and the continent of Africa. Those, of course, had to be removed from the packets provided to USDA. However, it is telling that the simple concept of children being able to choose whole milk is a global concern.)
Likewise, Tewksbury with Progressive Agriculture Organization has long supported the right of children to choose whole milk at school. Several petition drives by Pro Ag have also amassed the tangible support of citizens, and those petitions were provided to USDA in previous years — delivered physically in boxes.
In February, Thompson stated that there are members of the House Ag Committee who want to elevate this issue of whole milk choice in schools. Thus, now is the time for organizations to come together and issue strong position statements supporting H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and for citizens to contact their elected representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress asking for their support of the House bill and in support of a champion to come forward with a companion bill in the Senate.
The ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ online petition still references the earlier H.R. 832 and S. 1810 bills, and will be updated when official links to the reintroduced bill text for H.R.1861 become available.
We read about and see the growing number of choices in the dairy aisle that make a simple trip to the store for milk, one that can be quite confusing. There’s the thing about fat (all those different percentages) and the thing about fraud (all those plant, nut, and bean drink products calling themselves ‘milk.’)
First, the different “percentage milks” we know as skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole milk. The latter is confusing, is it 100 percent milk? Do some people think it is 100% fat?
Well, all dairy milk is 100 percent milk, no mater what the fat percentage… But, No: Whole milk is not 100 percent fat. It is not even 10 percent fat. It is standardized to 3.25 percent fat, and if you drank it straight from the cow it would be anywhere from 3 to 5 percent fat depending on breed of cow, time of year, and type of roughage fed.
And then there is protein. Did you know dairy milk provides a little over 8 grams of protein per 8 oz. serving? It packs quite a bit more protein-punch than almond ‘milk’ at a little over 1 gram of protein per 8 oz. serving.
Made like coffee, the crushed almonds are filtered with water. In fact, an 8 oz. serving of almond milk may be more like eating an almond and drinking a glass of water with sugar and thickeners added and a handful of other ingredients.
A common almondmilk brand label lists these ingredients the first being almondmilk defined as almond-filtered water: Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamine E Acetate, Zinc Gloconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2.
A typical dairy milk label lists these ingredients: Milk, Vitamin D3. Pretty simple to see that the calcium and vitamins on the milk label are already in the milk and that zero sugar is added and zero thickeners.
The freshness of REAL dairy milk can’t be beat going from farm to table in 24 to 48 hours. It comes naturally from the cow providing the natural proteins and calcium and small amounts of healthy fat that our bodies readily absorb and utilize.
In fact, the carb-to-protein ratio of chocolate milk is now shown to be one of the best sports-recovery drinks on the market today. Yes, plain ‘ole chocolate milk. Maybe if farmers call it by another name, consumers will take notice to what has been in front of them all along.
Still, for many consumers, the perception persists that whole milk is a high-fat beverage, when in reality it is practically 97 percent fat free!
At the bottling plant, milk is pasteurized and standardized. Cream is skimmed to package whole milk at 3.25 precent fat. The skimmed cream—along with additional cream skimmed to bottle the 1% and 2% and non-fat milks—is then used to make other products like butter, ice cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and dips.
The “standard of identity” for yogurt states it also contain a minimum of 3.25% fat—just like whole milk.
Even ice cream is not 100 percent fat. The FDA standard of identity is that it contain a minimum of 10 percent fat. Some of the richer, higher-end ice creams contain up to 14 percent fat. But along with that fat, comes some nutritional benefits. These are not empty calories.
Butter is high in fat because it is, after all, a fat. Even it ranges 82 to 84 percent fat. A tablespoon of butter in the pan or on your veggies is a smaller quantity serving than an 8 oz. glass of milk; so even though the fat content is much more concentrated at a higher percentage, no one sits down and eats a cup of butter (2 sticks)!
Furthermore, we have learned that the saturated fat in milk and meat are not bad for us and that when part of a healthy integrated diet may actually provide heart healthy ‘good’ cholesterol.
The fears ingrained over 50 years of low-fat dogma are being abandoned as a nutritional experiment that has failed miserably, even though the federal government continues to hang on to the failed lowfat experiment in the recent 202-25 Dietary Guidelines.
What a growing number of scientists have found is that we need not have blamed whole milk, butter—or beef for that matter—all of these years. In fact, the recent rise in obesity and diabetes is linked more to overconsumption of carbohydrates that have filled the energy-void after we collectively sucked healthy fat out of our diets.
Saturated fats are not the enemy, the “new” science shows. However, the science is really not new. Long-time observers, investigative reporters, and scientists note that the very science supporting the health benefits of saturated fats found in milk and meat has been around for decades, but was ignored — even buried.
Meanwhile, U.S. consumer demand for butter has been expanding, and worldwide demand for U.S.-produced ice cream and yogurt has grown as well. Dairy foods and snacks that offer an energy boost with a healthy protein-to-energy ratio—such as yogurt, whole milk, and even ice cream—will be particularly in demand in nations where busy, on-the-go consumers look for reviving options.
Healthy, natural fat and protein from milk and meat keep food cravings at bay to prevent binge-eating on empty-carb snacks. Enjoyed as part of a healthy integrated diet, dairy products—even ice cream—are satisfying, nutrient-dense, carb-moderating foods that can even be the dieter’s best friend.
Go real, go natural. There’s no reason to fear real milk, dairy and beef products from cattle. Contrary to what the activists say and contrary to government ‘guidelines’ that refused again to consider all the science, nutrient-dense full-fat dairy foods and meat are good for us, and yes, good for the planet.
Is now the time for a separate voluntary checkoff to divorce USDA, promote real U.S.-produced dairy, and take back the market value of consumer trust?
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 22, 2021
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — What has the mandatory dairy checkoff done for you its funders — the dairy farmers — lately? That’s a loaded question.
The short answer? Lots of herding.
One would believe mandatory checkoff promotion would be focused on herding consumers toward dairy products, but it may be more aptly described as herding producers toward certain global food transformation and marketing goals.
In various DMI phone conferences with producers, checkoff leaders have often repeated how they build relationships to ‘move milk’, work hard to ‘move milk’ and pivot through circumstances to ‘move milk’.
Yes, there are several important and functional programs funded with checkoff dollars, mostly by state and regional checkoff organizations, including various ‘point of purchase’ and ‘tell your story’ programs aimed at connecting farmers with consumers. They help, and they also fit the agenda.
Survey after survey shows consumers trust farmers. They do not necessarily trust the global processors, retailers and chain restaurants that put farmers’ products in the consumer space.
This should come as no surprise. When it comes right down to it: Do farmers, themselves, even trust these consolidated globalized conglomerates?
Consumers trust farmers (88% up 4% since June according to AFBF survey), so ‘moving milk’ means connecting farmers with consumers. But the profit in that equation rests with the consolidated power structure – the global corporations – in the middle.
Edelman knows consumers trust farmers. They do the annual global consumer ‘trust barometer’ where corporations are told consumers want purpose-driven marketing. They create prophecy and fulfill it.
What has checkoff done for you lately? They have taken what consumers love and trust about farmers and fund programs that make farmers earn what they already have. They tell farmers that consumers demand corporations show how they are improving climate, the environment and animal care. But do they tell farmers that consumers also want corporations to stand up for and improve how they care for the families who farm?
Along with producing the milk to make delicious, nutritious dairy products, dairy farmers possess the trust-commodity the global corporations covet.
One thing the national checkoff has done for you lately (especially since 2008) is to transfer that trust-commodity from farmers to global brands. They treat this trust-commodity as though it is a formless piece of clay they can mold to accomplish goals set by the pre-competitive roundtable of global conglomerates — via the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, formed by checkoff and funded with checkoff dollars since 2008.
Yes, consumers want to know where and how their food is produced. But they TRUST farmers. So farmers are being used to carry the purpose-driven messages of corporations. Shouldn’t these companies be paying farmers for this trust-commodity instead of farmers paying the freight for checkoff to transfer it?
What has checkoff done lately? How often do we hear that checkoff is “building trust”?
The trust is there. Checkoff is using that trust to build marketing, for who? You? The farmer?
Checkoff launched and funded – through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy – the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. What about a Corporations Assuring Responsible Ethics (CARE) program for the treatment of dairy farmers? Shouldn’t there be something like that to balance the scales of power?
Isn’t that what checkoff was originally created for? According to statute, it is to be the producer’s voice in promoting their product.
Repeatedly, we see evidence that consumers care about how farmers are treated. They indicate preferences for locally-produced and U.S.-produced food. Why? Because they trust farmers and want them to be supported by their purchases. The more local or domestic the farms producing the food, the better they like it.
So here is a short and incomplete list of some things checkoff has done for you lately:
1_ Used your farmer-trust-commodity to market brands via the ‘pre-competitive’ work of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
3_ Convinced farmers they must do x, y and z to ‘build trust and sales’ via the FARM program as determined by the pre-competitive collaboration of global corporations via the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
The FARM program convinces farmers they (checkoff) is building trust by setting requirements for how farmers manage their dairy farms, cows, employees and land. These parameters are agreed to pre-competitively by global corporations via DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and then enforced on farms through their milk buyers with the equal weight of a contractual obligation.
The next wave for the FARM program is environmental to fulfill the new “sustainability” platform, the Net-Zero Initiative. Be appreciative, say checkoff leaders, FARM is farmer-led and the Net-Zero Initiative will be profitable.
The pre-pandemic spring 2020 GENYOUth ‘Insights’ newsletter put it this way: “What youth know, care about and do might make or break the future for healthy, sustainable food and food systems. The future of sustainability – which includes the future of food and food systems – will benefit from youth leadership and voice.”
The GENYOUth Insights article bemoaned the Edelman-guided checkoff-funded survey revelation: “Youth are twice as likely to think about the (personal) healthfulness of their food over its environmental impact. Teens aren’t thinking too much about the connection between food and the health of the planet.”
That was PRE-pandemic. If anything, the pandemic has only reinforced the consumer focus on health, price and taste, while checkoff actively seeks to move the dietary goal posts and herd farmers and consumers toward marketing terms like: ‘sustainable nutrition’, ‘sustainable health’ and ‘good for you good for the planet.’ These terms will have definitions and requirements set by global corporations. Again, farmers will be told they must do x, y and z to build trust.
5_ Used checkoff funds to develop and promote products that dilute dairy and ultimately subtract value. A prime example is DFA’s ‘purely perfect’ blends, like Dairy-Plus-Almond, a 50/50 blend of almond beverage and low-fat ultrafiltered real milk – not to be confused with a better idea: why not almond-flavored 100% milk?
The rationale? DFA sold the concept for DMI investment as: “This product is not about pivoting away from dairy, instead we saw an opportunity to fulfill a need as people like almond or oat drinks for certain things and dairy for others. This product combines the two into a new, different-tasting drink that’s still ultimately rooted in real, wholesome dairy.”
This fits what CEO Gallagher has talked about in the past projecting the fluid milk future as being ‘milk-based’.
In terms of milk products in schools, Gallagher put it this way in his 2019 CEO address: “Schools represent just 7.7% of consumption, but… We have got to deal with the kids for a variety of reasons on sales and trust.” He went on to say that the fluid milk committee “asked DMI to put together a portfolio of products for kids inside of schools and outside of schools. What are the niches that need to be filled? What’s the right packaging? What needs to be in the bottle? And we can do that,” he said.
6_ Coached farmers on how to talk to consumers in a way that touches on the Net-Zero sustainability goals of these global corporations and links the farmer’s trust-commodity with global brands.
The bottom line is what the checkoff has done for farmers in the past 12 years is to establish a roundtable of global corporations that determine what dairy innovations to promote for the consumer level and what production practices to audit at the farm level, and then convinces you, the farmer, that they are doing these things to ‘build trust and sales’ and ‘move milk.’
While farmer checkoff funds are the financial side of this effort, farmers themselves are also being used to transfer that trust-commodity to the corporations, ostensibly so checkoff can keep convincing them to ‘do things with your milk.’
If a referendum on dairy checkoff is not possible, then perhaps a new voluntary checkoff is a way for dairy farmers to create an entity that stands apart from USDA government speech and MOUs, apart from global WEF Great Reset influence, apart from corporate decision-making, to stand with and for farmers, to take back their trust-commodity, to define who they are, what they already do, what it is worth to consumers, and create market value for the farmers’ milk and the consumers’ trust.
What has dairy checkoff done for you lately? Did you request checkoff materials or assistance with a project that was denied or approved? Did you participate in a checkoff program that was wonderful or not so much? Do you have examples of programs and ideas you started at the grassroots level that checkoff ‘took over’ and changed the message? Did you have a dairy donation event for whole milk that checkoff said could not be done at schools? Have your milk buyers ever paid you — or even thanked you — for the premium-consumer-trust-commodity they pick up every time they pick up your milk? Send your observations to firstname.lastname@example.org