Questions of science abound, public is clueless, yet USDA seeks ‘public comments’ on labeling of lab-grown cells by Dec 2!

This infographic is an oversimplified laboratory depiction of the ‘cell cultured meat’ process. On Sept. 3, 2021, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which will oversee its harvest, processing, packaging and labeling, announced proposed label rulemaking and a 60-day comment period (NOW extended to Dec. 2, 2021) to prepare for market entry. FDA will oversee the sourcing, collection and growing of this un-natural protein process. These products are expected to hit the U.S. market in 2022 and we might not know if they are included as extenders or replacements if labeling is poor. Istock image

UPDATE: The comment period at the Federal Register has been extended an additional 30 days to December 2, 2021

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine series

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How should ‘cell cultured meats’ be labeled? That’s a loaded question considering how many unknowns surround the commercial production of these lab-grown lookalikes — starting with what are they, really?

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a 60-day comment period as part of its advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register Friday, Sept. 3. The agency seeks “specific types of comments and information that will inform the process of developing labeling regulations for meat and poultry products made using animal cell culture technology.”

Comments are now due by Dec. 2, 2021 and must reference Docket FSIS-2020-0036.

They can be submitted directly here or by going online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at https://www.regulations.gov and following the on-line instructions; or mail comments to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3768, Washington DC 20250-3700. 

In a press release, FSIS officials said ‘cell culture meat’ is a terminology the federal agencies use internally, but this is not necessarily the nomenclature to be used in consumer product labeling.

The actual Federal Register notice is lengthy, explaining that the labels for cell culture products fall under FSIS jurisdiction and “will be subject to premarket review under the same process as other special statements or claims. This will ensure that labeling for products developed using cell culture technology are not false or misleading, that labeling requirements are applied consistently as these novel products enter the marketplace, and that the label provides the necessary product information for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.”

To-date, FSIS has already provided for a “generic approval” of labeling features, statements, and claims based on “demonstrated prevalent industry understanding of the effective application of those features, statements, or claims and consumer understanding of labeling statements.”

However, the document also notes that there is currently “no widespread industry understanding of the labeling requirements for cell cultured meat and poultry products” and that “consumers have not yet had experience reading these types of labels.”

Furthermore, FSIS will have to determine a process for approving additional claims on the labels of these new and combined products.

The docket language suggests that FSIS already considers these proteins analogous as derivatives of the animals from which the original cells are sourced. But are they? Even scientists debate this assumption.

As billionaire-invested startups have joint-ventured with some of the world’s largest food processing companies, much money is being thrown at certain technology hurdles to avoid having to explain the unsavory aspects of the cell culture process to the public — as these lab-grown un-natural proteins inch their way closer to commercial market entry, especially on boneless products like ground beef and chicken tenders and patties.

The label rulemaking step comes two years after the FDA and USDA entered into a joint agreement to each take responsibility for different halves of the ‘cell culture’ process.

The March 2019 agreement came after a summer 2018 public meeting previously reported in Farmshine, for which thousands of comments and two petitions have been logged. 

In 2018, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a petition requesting that FSIS limit the definition of ‘‘beef’’ to products derived from cattle born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner, and thereby prohibit foods comprised of or containing cultured animal cells from being labeled as ‘‘beef.’’ The petition similarly requested the same for the definition of “meat” and other common meat terms on labels.

In 2020, FSIS received a petition from the Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Clinic requesting adoption of a labeling approach that “respects First Amendment commercial speech protections” and specifically establishes “a labeling approach that does not require new standards of identity and does not ban the use of common or usual meat or poultry terms.”

This came after over 6000 comments were received on the U.S. Cattlemen’s petition. 

In the current rulemaking docket, FSIS states that the comments came from trade associations, consumer advocacy groups, businesses operating in the meat, poultry, and cultured food product markets, and consumers with “most comments opposing the (cattlemen’s) petition overall; however, nearly all generally agreed that cultured meat and beef should be labeled in a manner that indicates how it was produced and differentiates it from slaughtered meat products.”

To some, that kind of interpretation would mean ‘cultured beef without the cow’; to others a better definition would be ‘un-natural beef grown from gene-edited, growth-hormone-promoted laboratory cell cultures.’

Here’s the problem. The lengthy Federal Register docket does very little to explain the real process by which cell cultured un-natural protein is designed and grown before it is harvested, processed and packaged.

The docket includes a description of ‘cell culture’ meat and poultry that fails to specify any of the characteristics, even those that are being questioned by experts in science journals – things that consumers should know and understand via crystal-clear differentiation.

For example, cell culture fake-meat comes from stem cells that are identified and separated from muscle tissue of cattle, pigs, poultry and certain fish. New “continuous cell lines” are being developed from these stem cells using “transformation” processes (gene editing) to make them “immortal.” 

In other words, cells normally have a finite end to their growth, but continuous cell lines — under the right controlled environments — are ‘designed’ to keep dividing and growing, continuously, like a malignancy, without an end point.

Also, the ‘growth medium’ for these ‘cell cultures’ contains Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), growth promoting hormones, and, when needed, antibiotics and fungicides. The controlled environment provides the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide akin to animal respiration, and the temperature must be warmed constantly to be the internal temperature of the bovine to keep the cells from dying. At a certain juncture in the process, the growing cells must be ‘fed’ amino acids and carbohydrates.

Reviews of chemical replacements for Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) are mixed. Some showed the continuation of cell growth was not consistent. Others showed changes happened within the cells when the growth medium included artificial replacements for the FBS. Portions of the veterinary and medical industries also rely on FBS for culturing, and some reports indicate increased importation of FBS, already, for those uses.

Any label claims about nutrition, environmental footprint, possible changes to the actual cells due to the composition of the growth medium, and so forth, are all based on smaller-scale laboratory observation and scale speculation, while consumers have literally zero understanding of the process, and some scientists even question whether the nutrition profiles, taste and texture are similar enough to meet consumer expectations for real meat and poultry. 

These are standards of identity issues.

Here’s the other key issue for USDA’s rulemaking on ‘cell cultured meat’ labeling… USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) only regulates the back half of the equation. In March 2019, the agreement between USDA and FDA was to “jointly oversee the production of human food products made using animal cell culture technology and derived from the cells of livestock and poultry to ensure that such products brought to market are safe, unadulterated and truthfully labeled.”

Specifically, this agreement delegates the oversight of cell collection, growth and differentiation to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Then, at the stage of “harvest” FDA transfers oversight to USDA’s FSIS, which oversees the cell harvest, processing, packaging and labeling of the products.

According to the FSIS rulemaking notice, the agency believes its current food safety and HACCP systems for real meat and poultry are already “sufficient” to be “immediately applied” to the harvest, processing and packaging of these lab-grown lookalikes and that they are only looking at this final labeling piece. This gives us a clue where the labeling is headed.

Specifically, FSIS seeks comments and information from stakeholders over the next 60 days regarding these key areas of the labeling process:

— Consumer expectations about the labeling of these products, especially in light of the nutritional composition and organoleptic qualities (taste, color, odor, or texture) of the products;

— Names for these products that would be neither false nor misleading;

— Economic data; and

— Any consumer research related to labeling nomenclature for products made using animal cell culture technology.

It will be difficult for true consumer advocacy groups (not meat and poultry industry trade groups who are mostly on board for the mix-and-match) to fully consider their views on the above questions. This is further blurred by the oversimplified FSIS description of the cell culture process that does not include any reference to specific characteristics.

For example, the definition does not mention hormones as inputs, it mentions ‘growth factors’. It doesn’t talk about continuously dividing cell lines, but rather ‘creating food’.

In another section, it doesn’t mention FBS, hormones, antibiotics as inputs but rather simply states: “cells are retrieved and placed in a controlled environment with appropriate nutrients and ‘other factors to support growth’ and cellular multiplication. After the cells have multiplied, ‘additional inputs such as growth factors,’ new surfaces for cell attachment, and additional nutrients are added to the controlled environment to enable the cells to differentiate into various cell types.”

The use of innocent code words belie the specifics. 

Of course, states FSIS about the process: “Once produced, the harvested cells can be processed, packaged, and marketed in the same, or similar, manner as slaughtered meat and poultry products.”

Nowhere in this description does it mention the gene editing of the cells to get them to transform for continuous multiplication and growth, nor what evidence exists that consuming such cells is safe. Consumers will want to know what they might be consuming once the world’s largest meat processors begin to use cultured cells as real meat extenders, diluters and substitutes.

Nowhere in this description does it mention the hormones and growth promotants that are the necessary “growth factor inputs” because the cells are growing on their own without the animal’s body, designed by God, to provide the natural hormones for natural growth with natural end points.

Nowhere in this description does the docket mention other clear differences between ‘cell cultured’ un-natural protein vs. real natural meat and poultry. The description suggests they are ‘designer’ derivatives of the real thing, opening the door to claims of being more efficient with less environmental impact. Based on what? A reduction in cattle and other livestock numbers?

Like we’ve seen in dairy with plant-based fakes and lack of standards enforcement by FDA, these ‘novel’ products will get to do the more-than / less-than comparative marketing off the real natural standard while consumers assume all other aspects are equal – when clearly they are not.

Scientific journals such as Frontiers in Nutrition have published scholarly articles pointing out the speculation involved in what this process will look like at commercial scale and what impact it will have on the nutrient characteristics, especially micronutrients like iron and B12, that come from the animal’s interaction with its natural environment. (Even the scaffolds the cells grow on will have methods for stretching cell blobs to simulate movement.)

Some scholarly articles point out that even the environmental claims are suspect because land and water use comparisons for cattle are predominantly what is used in feed production. The lab-grown cell cultures will also have to be “fed”. But they won’t spend part of their ‘lifecycle’ grooming carbon-sequestering grasslands or contributing to planet health in the biogenic carbon cycle.

Furthermore, writes one scientist, the warming required for these cell cultures to grow in bioreactors also create CO2 emissions that are long-lived — potentially adding to the buildup of long-term GHG, whereas the methane emitted from real cattle is short-lived and in fact stable and declining when viewed on a total nutrients per animal basis vs. history. This means, what is seen as a reduction in CO2 equivalents for methane based on the short-term heat-trapping side could be more than lost on the long-term CO2 buildup side, a tough fix down the road.

The problem with climate and environmental label claims is that they are based on speculation about unknowns for un-natural cell culture proteins and are compared to only part of the real story about real natural livestock.

All of these unanswered questions should be part of any USDA FSIS rulemaking process on labeling.  These proteins should be labeled as ‘experimental’ and ‘un-natural’ until processes are widely known and understood by scientists, agencies, industry and consumers.

In the Sept. 2 press release, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Sandra Eskin, states that, “The (proposed rulemaking) is an important step forward in ensuring the appropriate labeling of meat and poultry products made using animal cell culture technology. We want to hear from stakeholders and will consider their comments as we work on a proposed regulation for labeling these products.”

Perhaps what USDA needs to hear from commenters over the next 60 days is that there is not enough public information about how these un-natural proteins are sourced, grown, and gene-edited — or their true nutritional and environmental profiles — to call them beef or meat with a simple qualifying statement few will truly understand.

Proponents of labeling cell culture proteins as meat because the cells are derivative are already whining to FSIS about how new labeling procedures or standards of identity would “stifle innovation.”

Individuals, businesses and organizations should be standing up for the consumer’s right to know what they are consuming and what production processes they are supporting – un-natural cell factories or natural meat raised by farmers and ranchers. There are also consumer health and nutrition questions on the FDA front end that the labeling needs to address accurately on the FSIS back end.

Just because the initial cells come from a cow or a chicken or a pig, doesn’t mean the un-natural ‘culturing’ process and resulting blobs of cells, once consumed, will behave in our bodies like — or contain the same properties as — natural muscle meat from a cow or a chicken or a pig.

Processors will be able to swap a percentage of this for that and barely change their labels if new standards or full descriptions are not used. 

Labeling should not give the appearance that this is simply meat without the animal. Some would argue this is Frankenfood. Some would argue this is experimental protein that should have to go through rigorous safety tests on the long-term impacts to health and nutrition. But the climate urgency of the United Nations Food Summit this month is already alluding to fast-tracking these “innovations”, applauding Singapore and China for moving forward most aggressively… to save the planet of course.

Perhaps the question to ask is this: How will labeling clearly differentiate so consumers have a clear choice and farmers and ranchers have a real chance… 

The dairy industry is facing this music on its own score with the FDA currently evaluating standards of identity for milk and dairy and looking at the new bovine DNA-altered yeast/fungi/bacteria excrement posing as dairy protein analogs without the cow. Through a process that is in some ways different and in other ways similar to cell culture proteins, the bioengineered yeast excrements are being called “designer proteins from precision fermentation.” 

The latest marketing twist is to say the bioengineered yeast are “10 to 20 times more efficient feed converters than cows.” These proteins are already being marketed to global processors of dairy foods as ‘stretchers’ and ‘functional’ ingredients, even as ‘carbon footprint enhancers.’

The economic concern for producers on both counts – meat and dairy – is dilution of their products and captive supply price-control of their ‘markets’.

The concern for consumers is the long-term healthfulness and safety of these ingredients and the increased potential for global food control in the hands of a few, with China already figuring prominently in the protein concentration manufacturing industry, globally.

This labeling discussion is too important to ignore, too important to allow oversimplification. Some in the industry say we must encourage and work beside these new forms of food production to end hunger, control climate change and feed everyone in the future. But the foundation premises of these beliefs are not settled science. 

The simple play here, by the tech sector to align and dominate the food industry, is to position these un-natural proteins as helpful analogs grown or cultured or fermented without the animals, that these products are needed to supplement animal-sources and reduce environmental impact of livestock, that climate change urgency requires regulatory fast-tracking, and that simple process-qualifiers on a label will differentiate it while making it palatable to consumers. 

Will consumers be led to believe these “innovations” are in all other ways the same as the real thing… when in fact they are not?

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MilkPEP stays the course to uphold nutritional values

Doing so means walking away from DMI and NFL constraints

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, September 3, 2021

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Rather than dilute its rejuvenated milk performance messaging in NFL athletes’ own milk stories, the national Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) walked away from its quest for a fall promotion partnership with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Football League (NFL).

According to leaked emails dated August 27 and 28, the decision was made when NFL feedback required removal of references to fluid milk hydration, recovery and performance due to infringement on the territory of a prime NFL sponsor, PepsiCo.

Rather than dilute the campaign’s message to gain NFL approval, the email indicates MilkPEP will use its own creative content with NFL athletes, without the NFL branding. Separate Farmshine requests for official statements from both MilkPEP and DMI were not immediately answered.

‘You’re gonna need milk for that’ is a performance based MilkPEP campaign with athletes’ authentic milk stories and a wealth of milk facts and comparisons to other beverages. The ‘got milk?’ offshoot also links up with MilkPEP’s builtwithchocolatemilk.com website. Screen capture at gonnaneedmilk.com

Some history is in order.

MilkPEP is funded by the mandatory 20-cent per hundredweight assessment that is included in the Class I price and is paid by fluid milk processors on all fluid milk that is processed and marketed in consumer type packages in the U.S. DMI, on the other hand, is funded by a portion of the 15-cent checkoff paid on all milk hundredweights sold by all U.S. dairy producers and the 7.5-cent per hundredweight equivalent paid by dairy importers. 

MilkPEP, under the leadership of CEO Yin Woon Rani since October 2019, has brought back and revitalized milk education messages with an up-to-date modern focus on the nutritional and performance benefits of milk. 

For example, MilkPEP revived ‘got milk?’ in 2020, and even more recently started a related slogan ‘you’re gonna need milk for that.’

At the gonnaneedmilk.com website, Milk is positioned as “fueling athletes for centuries” and as “the original sports drink” with tabs for milk facts, why milk, and milk vs. other beverages. In fact, some state and regional checkoff programs, including the southern Dairy Alliance, are using some of MilkPEP’s fluid milk promotion pieces. MilkPEP also partners with DMI on some projects related to fluid milk promotion.

DMI leaders often point out that their role is research and instead of generic advertising, they focus on innovation via proprietary strategic partnerships that include DMI’s 5-year-old Fluid Milk Revitalization Initiative; while MilkPEP focuses on consumer-facing fluid milk education and promotion. DMI often claims to “further the reach” of MilkPEP promotions through partnering and social media.

A central theme in MilkPEP’s ‘gonna need milk’ campaign is how milk’s unique nutritional attributes fuel extraordinary accomplishments. Through science-based information and the stories of Team Milk athletes, this campaign comes right out to proclaim “Milk: The Original Sports Drink.”  So far this year, the milk stories of Team USA Olympians have been featured.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t get it done with the NFL, but we’ll find a way to get it done,” said Everett Williams, a MilkPEP board member at-large and Madison, Georgia dairy producer when called for his thoughts on the matter. “I have been impressed with what MilkPEP is doing, and it looks like we’ll still be working with the athletes, just not with the NFL branding. 

“But we will still get the message out that ‘you’re gonna need milk for that,’” he said.

The fall promotion work had reportedly been underway for months creating content. Given DMI’s partnership with MilkPEP and with the NFL in schools via the GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 since 2009, the thought was these MilkPEP promotions could associate the athletes’ stories with the NFL and FUTP60.

However, in the email leaked to many, including to Farmshine, over the weekend, MilkPEP apparently thanked DMI’s teams for working with them on this, but said the organization would follow a different pathway for the fall promotions already created. The email noted that MilkPEP worked with DMI “in an attempt to make compelling content for Gen Z to help us achieve our objective of positioning milk as a valuable performance drink that helps athletes do extraordinary things.”

This created conflict with the NFL.

According to the email, the feedback that was sent back was “very stringent prohibiting this type of content.” 

This feedback would have included editing every player’s authentic testimonials and removing all messaging from the gonnaneedmilk.com website that related to hydration, performance, recovery and sports drinks.

MilkPEP indicated in the email that it was unable to accommodate this level of feedback because the information is fact- and science-based.

In the email, MilkPEP’s continued support was emphasized for GENYOUth, the non-profit formed originally by DMI and the NFL. MilkPEP will pay for the distribution of nearly 4000 flag football kits to schools in October, which will feature the Team Milk NFL and nutritional posters along with the ‘got milk?’ branded pinnies, according to the email.

Outside of the schools, MilkPEP will essentially move forward on their own with their own content and will only use this content featuring attire without NFL or team brands and without any FUTP60 branding and no connection to the NFL.

“I am disappointed that we weren’t able to find a special place for milk in NFL promotion,” said Rob Barley, a MilkPEP board member at-large and dairy producer from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when asked for his observations.

Barley noted that MilkPEP staff worked very hard on this promotion, and he indicated DMI worked with them, but in the end, the promotion was denied by the NFL as infringing on the areas of other sponsors.

He noted that this decision does not represent a break in the partnership between MilkPEP and DMI on fluid milk promotion, and it does not affect their school participation. Instead, it means MilkPEP is choosing to continue its fall promotion plan, using the unedited milk stories of football players. They just won’t have the approval of the NFL and therefore will not be able to associate with the NFL brand or FUTP60 logo.

“We lack the financial resources of other NFL partners,” Barley said. “It’s that simple.”

NFL sponsorship deals are huge. According to an NS Business report last year, the NFL brought in a combined $1 billion through sponsorship deals from 30 brands during the 2019-20 season. At $100 million, PepsiCo was the fourth largest, allowing it to use the NFL logo and branding on its advertising campaigns for soft drinks as well as its other beverage and snack brands including Aquafina (water), Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana and Quaker Oats.

By comparison, the entire annual budget of MilkPEP is less than that, estimated at $85 million.

Also in comparison, according to IRS 990 forms, DMI pays the NFL approximately $7 to $8 million annually and provides the staffing and infrastructure for the partnership with the NFL in GENYOUth, where state and regional checkoff organizations, collectively, outspend all other individual donors, including the purchase of breakfast carts and equipment and educational materials for schools. 

Over the past decade, GENYOUth’s in-school materials have evolved well beyond the original realm of nutrition and exercise as more multinational corporate donors from the technology, financial and consumer packaged goods sectors have boarded the school bus.

In 2020 and 2021, GENYOUth has focused its out-of-school messaging on raising funds for delivering school meals amid pandemic disruptions. 

Through GENYOUth and FUTP60, DMI targeted Generation Z over the past 12 to 13 years. In a press conference in May, Anne Warden, DMI’s executive vice president of Strategic Integration, said dairy checkoff “has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition (in 2008-09).” She stated that Gen Z is “not interested in facts like vitamins and minerals. They want to know how foods and beverages will make them feel.”

The FUTP60 partnership between the NFL and DMI began in 2009. By 2010, DMI had created the 501c3 non-profit Youth Improved Incorporated, operating as GENYOUth. Its formation includes USDA as an original partner. USDA blog posts and Flickr photos depicted the ceremony where the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was publicly signed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick, and National Dairy Council President Jean Regalie during the 2011 Superbowl. 

Also in 2011, PepsiCo renewed its longtime partnership with the NFL in a 10-year deal that ESPN reported to be over $90 million per year with additional spending in marketing and promotion of its ties to the NFL.

In 2018, the GENYOUth Vanguard hero award was presented to PepsiCo during the New York City GENYOUth Gala, at a time when dairy farmer heroes were encountering one of their most difficult milk price margin years and whose checkoff had been contributing far more millions to the GENYOUth effort over the previous 10 years than the one-year, one-million PepsiCo had pitched in for Spanish translations and 100 breakfast carts. (PepsiCo has a school foodservice company and website touting USDA-compliant products.)

PepsiCo’s North American CEO accepted the award that evening and indicated the company had “admired the Play 60 program for years.” He then used the dairy-farmer-founded GENYOUth venue to tout Pepsi’s focus on healthy new beverages, including the Quaker brand oat ‘milk’ he announced had arrived in stores (a brand that was subsequently discontinued).

Looking ahead, PepsiCo announced in Feb. 2021, its joint venture with Beyond Meat called The PLANeT Partnership to make and sell plant-based alternative drinks and snacks. In July 2021, Beyond Meat filed to trademark “Beyond Milk.”

(Author’s note: NFL is big business, and its sponsorship deals understandably require rules for the road in which competing sponsors — especially those such as dairy producers with their smaller ‘altruistic’ investments as ‘partners’ in a youth program — are apparently expected to stay in their lane (getting meals to food insecure kids at school; not promoting milk’s nutritional profile in performance, hydration and sports recovery). On the other hand, pay attention…  if / when the PepsiCo / Beyond PLANeT Partnership brings forth a Beyond Milk beverage to go with the trademark application they just filed, dairy farmers will certainly expect the NFL to remember who the MILK lane belongs to.)

GENYOUth hosted the ‘Taste of NFL’ live-streamed event during the 2021 Superbowl and this week began promoting the event for 2022, aimed at using the ‘culinary experience’ to raise awareness and funds to support food insecurity. But traditional football fan-fave cheese never made it on the menu, unless PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Chee-tos count. Even the GENYOUth cooler behind CEO Alexis Glick looks like convenience stores and school foodservice these days: a small corner for real milk at the top surrounded by plenty of PepsiCo beverages and consumer-packaged snacks. (PepsiCo does, after all, have its own school foodservice company and website.) Official tailgating recipes for the GENYOUth-hosted event contained no dairy: Chicken Doritos Meatballs (Doritos = PepsiCo), BBQ Ribs, Smores, and spicy wings. Alexis did say she’ll ‘have her glass of milk ready’ when ‘spicy’ was mentioned. GENYOUth twitter photo

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Milk fuels these Olympic athletes, one is a dairy farmer

Katie Ledecky (Right) on Tuesday, July 27 when she won gold in the first ever women’s 1500-meter distance freestyle race. She drinks 12 ounces of chocolate milk after every race and workout.
Photo courtesy Team USA.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre (left) is a Vermont dairy farmer pictured here in June celebrating cows and cheese. Today, she’s in Tokyo getting ready to compete in Olympic track events next week.
Photo courtesy @ellie_runs_4_her_life

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 30, 2021

TOKYO — Commentators have likened Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky to a Lamborghini, a powerful machine, gliding through the water in freestyle sprints and distance races. She won four gold medals for Team USA in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and one in London in 2012.

Then, in Tokyo Tuesday, July 27, in the same 24-hour period — after winning silver in the 400-meter and missing medals altogether in the 200-meter — Ledecky came back with determination and poise to win Olympic gold by a healthy margin in the 1500-meter freestyle. Teammate Erica Sullivan secured the silver.

Ledecky was a machine Tuesday night in Tokyo. Her methodical straight line stretch of 30 laps in the 50-meter pool ended when she touched the wall at 15 minutes 37 seconds. That’s freestyle swimming of roughly one mile in just over 15 minutes – ranging 1.5 to 1.7 meters per second! She makes history as this is the first women’s 1500-meter freestyle Olympic event.

As she headed into the final four laps, NBC Sports commentators broadcast to a worldwide audience her training and nutrition regimen, how she fuels her body in the morning with oatmeal – made with milk, peanut butter and fruit — and always downs a 12-ounce bottle of chocolate milk after every race or workout.

Described as inspirational in her work ethic and a beast in her daily workout, Ledecky is one of Team USA’s Olympians who is proud to be powered by milk. Dairy farmers will be happy to know Ledecky teamed up a few years ago in the Built with Chocolate milk campaign, sponsored by the Milk Processors Education Program (MilkPEP). The campaign features athletes and the science behind low-fat chocolate milk as a recovery and refuel beverage. Low-fat chocolate milk is Ledecky’s choice, and milk and dairy are part of her dietary regimen in other ways too.

The swimmer told Fitness in 2018 that the bottle of chocolate milk 30 minutes after a workout or race has been part of her routine for more than a decade.

“This is my go-to post-workout recovery beverage since I was 13 years old,” said Ledecky in the Fitness interview. “I remember being a young swimmer when someone explained that drinking chocolate milk for recovery gives my body the nutrients it needs to refuel. Since then, I make sure to keep one in my lunchbox daily and drink it after a tough workout. Of course, it tastes great too.”

A year ago, Katie Ledecky helped MilkPEP bring back the ‘Got Milk campaign with this ‘Got Milk Challenge’ — swimming 50 meters freestyle in 35 seconds with a glass of chocolate milk balanced on her head, then managing to flip it at the end and drink it — never spilling a drop. The TikTok video went viral. Photo courtesy @katieledecky 

When the 2020 Olympics were postponed, Ledecky did the fun video of herself swimming 50 meters with a glass of chocolate milk on her head — without spilling a drop. That’s how steady, balanced and methodical her stroke is. Of course, at the end, she drank the milk — all smiles. The video went viral and inspired other swimmers to film themselves attempting the feat, and drinking the milk. Just a fun, feel-good moment for an accomplished Olympian who relies on and loves her chocolate milk.

As for Ledecky’s Tokyo Olympics this week, she has a few more events to go and we are rooting for her. Of her 1500-meter gold, Ledecky said in an NBC Sports interview just after the race that it “means a lot.”

With a nod to falling short of her goals in the 200- and 400-meter races just before the 1500, she said: “People may be feeling bad that I’m not winning everything, but I want people to be more concerned about other things in the world. People are truly suffering. I’m just proud to bring home a gold medal to Team USA.”

We are also rooting for the first-ever farm girl fueled to compete in the Olympics. Runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre arrived in Tokyo this week and will compete in the Olympic track events next week.

According to NBC Sports, Elle took first in the final 1500-meter race during Olympic trials, breaking a previous record and setting other track records as well, including breaking a 37-year-old record for the U.S. women’s indoor mile last year and breaking the two-mile record earlier this year.

Elle is a dairy farmer! She grew up on a 40-cow dairy farm near Montgomery, Vermont. Today she lives with her husband Jamie on his family’s Berkshire, Vermont dairy farm. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Elle trained from the farm with her own equipment and has reported in various mainstream media interviews how working on the dairy farm has helped her own fitness.

Whether at home on the farm in Vermont, or after a race or workout half the world away, Olympian Elle Purrier St. Pierre says the first thing she does after running is to chug a glass of milk. Facebook courtesy photo

She also explains every chance she gets how crucial dairy is to her diet. Elle’s husband studied dairy management at Cornell, and Elle studied nutrition at the University of New Hampshire. She says she could not have reached the heights of her running career without milk.

“The first thing I do when I get done running is, I chug a glass of milk, and I just know everything in there is going to help me do better,” says Elle in an interview with USA Today. “It’s got the perfect ratio of carbs and protein, when you add the chocolate, and just so many vitamins and minerals. It’s crazy what a great resource it is.”

There are also other Olympians proud to make milk and dairy part of their regimens, and to talk about it. We are rooting for Team USA and especially for Team Milk!

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Federal prohibition of whole milk in schools challenged in PA Senate committee hearing

The Pennsylvania Senate Policy Committee had a public hearing on the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools at the state capitol June 16, 2021. Pictured is school nurse Christine Ebersole driving from Martinsburg with her daughter Vanessa Wiand, an elementary school teacher, to testify in person. Some testifiers and senators joined by zoom on the big screens. Ebersole gave recorded BMI data for secondary students that would have come up through their school years before and after the whole milk prohibition. Senators Devlin Robinson, Chairman Mario Scavello, Senators David Argall, Cris Dush, and Scott Hutchinson hear Ebersole present her findings, along with Senate Education Committee Chair Scott Martin joining by zoom. At intervals throughout the hearing, other senate committee members joined in person or by zoom, including Senators Camera Bartolotta, Dan Laughlin, Bob Mensch, Judy Ward and Gene Yaw.

‘We need to do this for our children’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 2021

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.

— Reach out to Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which did not send representation to the hearing, to seek a direct answer on where the department stands on this.

— Have a second hearing in standing committee.

— 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.”

Troutman pointed out the volumes of milk being thrown away, a point confirmed by various reports.

“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?

Troutman noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is “out of touch with dairy.” Several Senators also remarked during the proceedings that the Department was absent from testifying or taking a stand on this issue.

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.”

(Author’s note, as a testifier, myself, I pointed out that a continued rise in overweight and diabetes among children and teens was acknowledged by experts and U.S. Senators in 2019 during a U.S. Senate Ag Committee Childhood Nutrition hearing in Washington.)

In-school foodservice insights shared

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.

Byler said the Union City trial’s actual milk data showed 52% more students chose milk as part of their school lunch, and at the same time, the volume of milk thrown away by students was reduced by 95%.

“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.

Despite protests by experts, the 2020-25 DGA committee again ignored large bodies of scientific literature on the positive role of saturated fats, especially milk fat, in a healthy diet.

“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.”

“People don’t know the facts about milk,” said Troutman as he talked about putting that first round bale in the pasture in frustration after a Pa. Milk Marketing Board meeting, painting over 50 of them to put on other farms and businesses, how other farmers painted their own and even got artists to paint some, and how Morrissey worked with other businesses to get banners and signs printed.

“It’s not just this state,” said Troutman, “it’s all over, and New York is one of the biggest. Then the 97 Milk education effort got going all by volunteers and donations.

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.”

Attached with her testimony were 10 reasons for children to have whole milk.

“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.”

Some of the members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee testified in person at the state capitol (l-r) Mike Eby, Sherry Bunting, Bernie Morrissey, Jackie Behr, Nelson Troutman, and some testified by zoom, Krista Byler, Tricia Adams and Christine Ebersole

DAIRY SOIs: FDA adopts new YOGURT standards rule, expects MILK rule next year

FDA yogurt standard of identity rule finalized; NMPF is calling it a “robust defense of dairy integrity.” IDFA is saying it is “woefully behind the times.” Frankly, it’s neither. Let’s go behind the mirror, shall we?

FDA yogurt standard of identity rule finalized. NMPF calls it a “robust defense of dairy integrity.” IDFA says it is “woefully behind the times.”

Frankly, it’s neither. Let’s go behind the mirror

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 16, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — FDA’s new yogurt standard of identity was finalized this week. The final rule was published June 11 and adopted July 12, 2021 after a 30-day comment period. It was a significant part of the hearing that launched the FDA multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS) three years ago.

Industry compliance is set to begin Jan. 1, 2024.

Over the next 30 months, other decisions are on the to-do list for FDA before anyone can consider the yogurt rule a slam-dunk for dairy.

In fact, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) responded to the new rule immediately with a little good cop / bad cop.

According to NMPF, the new rule “fits changes in yogurt-making technology.”

IDFA disagrees, and is filing a formal objection.

NMPF is calling it a “robust defense of dairy integrity.”

IDFA is saying it is “woefully behind the times.”

Frankly, it’s neither. Let’s go behind the mirror, shall we?

In the rule, yogurt is defined as: “Cream, milk, partially skimmed milk, skim milk, and the reconstituted versions of these ingredients that may be used alone or in combination as the basic dairy ingredients in yogurt manufacture.”

The rule states: “Yogurt is produced by culturing the basic dairy ingredients and any optional dairy ingredients with a characterizing lactic acid-producing bacterial culture.”

In its response, NMPF pointed to this language as “reinforcing the concept that where food comes from, and how it is made, matters.

“Logic matters. Consistency matters. That’s why the new FDA rule that defines what is and isn’t yogurt has much broader, and potentially very positive, implications in one of the most contested consumer issues of the day — the proper labeling of milk and dairy products,” NMPF states.

However, given the fact that FDA is still working on the standards of identity (SOI) for milk and dairy within its larger NIS framework, the biggest questions are still unanswered, and FDA indicated their guidance on milk and dairy SOIs won’t come until June 2022.

The yogurt rule simplifies FDA’s books and offers processors more flexibility, to a point. It revokes the previous individual SOIs for low-fat and non-fat yogurt, making one SOI for yogurt, in which low- and non-fat become labeling modifiers.

The intent of this, according to FDA, is to “modernize SOIs for technological advances while preserving the basic nature and essential characteristics.”

In the 22-page rule, FDA writes: “Any food that purports to be or is represented as yogurt, must conform to the definition standard of identity for yogurt.” — That’s the enforcement piece.

The thrust of FDA’s NIS is explained in documents as moving toward both revoking and modernizing standards so foods can compete on a nutritional basis, and to remove barriers to innovations. This includes determining how plant-based and synthetic alternatives are labeled.

New genetically-altered yeast excreting proteins are being made by companies like Perfect Day Foods, and they are pressuring FDA to designate them as dairy proteins, saying they are identical to casein and whey found in milk. They don’t want these proteins labeled as bioengineered because even though the yeast is genetically altered with bovine DNA, the protein excrement is used, not the yeast itself.

This is a bit of what’s under the surface on the dairy SOIs. 

In January 2020, IDFA had Perfect Day CEO and co-founder Ryan Pandya on an industry panel at the IDFA Dairy Forum in Arizona. During that IDFA Forum, Pandya told Food Dive in an interview that, “Every major multinational (company) is talking to us.” 

Pandya pitched the bioengineered yeast excrement to processors during the IDFA Forum, noting that they work through The Urgent Company, under the leadership of former Glanbia VP of product strategy in a business-to-business model, touting climate impact reductions by ‘partnering’ with the dairy industry to replace just 5% of dairy protein with their analog.

In fact, the January 2020 Food Dive article goes on to quote Monica Massey, an executive vice president and chief of staff for Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), as she told Pandya from the audience during the IDFA panel that she purchased the limited-edition Perfect Day ice cream last year.

“We sat down in a dairy cooperative headquarters and ate it, and I said ‘Oh, we’re screwed’ because it tasted just like ice cream,” Food Dive quotes Massey’s exchange with Pandya during the IDFA Forum. 

“In the industry we get hung up on ‘You can’t call it dairy.’ … (Perfect Day’s) not focused on the cow, you’re focused on the consumer, and we are so hellbent on focusing on the cow, the milk,” said Massey.

(Author’s note: Working for a cooperative owned by dairy farmers does kind of make it about the cows and the milk, but it can still be about the consumers, using the milk from the cows.)

An article posted publicly on the day of the new yogurt rule, July 12, gives us a good idea why IDFA is protesting the new SOI for yogurt, and why the big unanswered questions of milk and dairy identity — that the FDA expects to propose a year from now in June 2022 — are so important as the undergirding for individual SOIs like yogurt.

The July 12 article in Dairy Processing by Donna Berry (who is also a contractor on the payroll of DMI — the national dairy checkoff every dairy farmer must pay into, by law), quotes a representative of Perfect Day talking about the so-called ‘animal-free milk proteins,’ saying they are identical to casein and whey. They are excreted from microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi, that have been genetically altered with bovine DNA and are grown in fermentation vats on sugar substrate.

(The current, though unenforced, FDA SOI for milk is: “Milk is the lacteal secretion…obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” Of course, goat milk would be a consistent qualifier in source, characteristics and nutrition, but almond, oat, soy, bioengineered yeast, are not consistent with that legal definition.)

Without FDA guidance and enforcement of real dairy SOIs for milk, and 80 other products with FDA SOIs that come from milk, what’s to stop “seamless” swapping of bioengineered yeast-excrement in place of dairy protein in standardized dairy products and no bioengineered labeling? What ensures that consumers know what they are consuming, and dairy farmers aren’t put out of business by captive supply in the market and?

Yes, deciding what is and isn’t ‘milk’ and ‘dairy’ is still a huge item on the FDA to-do list.

IDFA is protesting what it says are ‘overly prescriptive’ process requirements in the new yogurt rule they claim are “not current with today’s innovations,” such as requiring cream to be added before, not after, lactic acid fermentation to meet standardized 3.25% fat levels. (That’s a bit of a monkey wrench for Perfect Day.)

Just a few of the other things IDFA is objecting about include the requirement for yogurt that contains ‘non-nutritive’ sweeteners be labeled as ‘reduced calorie’, and how high the vitamin A and D levels are set for processors choosing to voluntarily fortify the yogurt. 

The rule does offer the industry a peek into where milk and dairy standards could be headed since former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made the now-famous “almonds don’t lactate” statement at the very same time that the FDA NIS was launched in July of 2018.

Tied-in with the NIS are the stated purposes of addressing chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease by modernizing all 280 standards of identity, updating food labeling rules to educate consumers on nutritional choices, clarifying standards for new innovations (including lookalikes), and developing a voluntary ‘healthy symbol’ for foods so consumers get a ‘quick signal’ to make choices lower in sodium, saturated fat, and calories via the Dietary Guidelines, while including the nutritional quality consumers expect.

During the FDA NIS hearings reported in Farmshine three years ago, FDA said it wanted to better understand how consumers understand the term ‘milk.’

Rob Post, with yogurt-maker Chobani, was a presenter that day, and he expressed concerns that the current yogurt standards made it difficult for Greek yogurt to be offered in schools and other institutional feeding situations to accurately quantify the protein levels. Strained Greek yogurt is 52% protein, twice that of regular yogurt, he said.

He asked for a better process that keeps pace with innovation, but he was very quick to defend the current definition of milk and dairy — and its enforcement.

“It’s important to have options,” said Post. “But words matter to consumers and dairy means something specific. It means nutrient dense, minimal processing. It is important that this standard is preserved. Standards are important because they assure the consistency of the product, its authenticity and nutrition.”

Meanwhile, FDA’s new yogurt rule “expands the allowable ingredients in yogurt, including sweeteners such as agave, and reconstituted forms of basic dairy ingredients.”

This simpler, more flexible statement means ultrafiltered (UF) milk solids and even dry milk protein concentrate, can be used in formulation as ‘optional functional dairy ingredients.’ As milk-derived ingredients, these examples don’t reconstitute to the properties of the basic ingredients listed in the yogurt SOI, and must be labeled. 

The new rule also “establishes a minimum amount of live and active cultures yogurt must contain to bear the optional labeling statement ‘contains live and active cultures’ or similar statement.” And, if the yogurt is treated for extended shelf life in a way that inactivates viable microorganisms, the yogurt must now include a statement ‘does not contain live and active cultures’ on the label. 

“The final rule is already out of date before it takes effect,” wrote Joseph Scimeca, Ph.D., senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for IDFA in a statement. “For the most part, FDA relied on comments submitted 12 or more years ago to formulate its final rule — as if technology has not progressed or as if the yogurt making process itself has been trapped in amber like a prehistoric fossil.”

Scimeca added that the yogurt rule is “woefully behind the times and doesn’t match the reality of today’s food processing environment or the expectations of consumers.”

On the other hand, there were numerous industry comments seeking a more traditional rule in terms of milk and cream vs. ‘milk-derived’ or ‘reconstituted’. 

FDA responded in the rule, stating: “Technological advances in food science and technology allow for a wider range of milk-derived ingredients developed with advances in membrane processing technology in the dairy industry. The final rule permits the use of emulsifiers and preservatives to prevent separation, improve stability and texture, and extend the shelf-life of yogurt.”

While the rule, in effect, “permits optional functional dairy ingredients,” and “modernizes the yogurt standard to allow for technological advances,” it also requires the 3.25% milkfat and 8.25% solids not fat threshold at a point in the process before bulky flavorings are added. That’s helpful.

Calling the new rule “a robust defense of standards of identity,” NMPF cited its citizen’s petition filed with FDA in 2019, saying: “With the yogurt rule complete, our petition should be answerable in much less than 21 years.”

FDA’s NIS is also reviewing and updating its own “general principles for food standards of identity.” The seed inside the core of this huge apple.

“We are continuing our efforts to revoke or amend certain standards of identity — from frozen cherry pie and French dressing to yogurt — especially when the standard of identity is inconsistent with modern manufacturing processes or creates barriers to innovation,” states FDA about its process.

As pieces, like this yogurt rule drift out of that process, a thought emerges: FDA is cleaning its books full of hundreds of SOIs to consolidate and simplify them — before tackling the really big questions of legally defining what the broader SOIs will be.

Still on deck are the all-important SOIs defining and enforcing core milk and dairy terms, even as pressure from plant-based, cell-cultured, yeast-cultured and other lookalikes push for SOIs that simply set nutritional standards for analogs to meet. 

FOOD FIGHT: USDA, Scholastic join billionaire-invested brand-marketing of ‘fakes’ in school meals, curriculum

The cover story of a recent Junior Scholastic Weekly Reader — the social studies magazine for elementary school students — was dated for school distribution May 11, 2021, the same week USDA approved a Child Nutrition Label for Impossible Burger and released its Impossible Kids Rule report. This label approval now allows the fake burger to be served in place of ground beef in school meals and be eligible for taxpayer-funded reimbursement. Meanwhile, Scholastic Weekly Reader and other school ‘curricula’ pave the marketing runway with stories incorrectly deeming cows as water-pigs, land-hogs, and huge greenhouse gas emitters, without giving the context of true environmental science.

Is USDA complicit? Or ring-leader? One Senator objects

By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON – It’s appalling. Bad enough that the brand of fake meat that has set a goal to end animal agriculture has been approved for school menus, fake facts (brand marketing) about cows and climate are making their way to school curriculum as well. The new climate-brand edu-marketing, and USDA has joined the show.

“Schools not only play a role in shaping children’s dietary patterns, they play an important role in providing early education about climate change and its root causes,” said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown in a May 11 statement after Impossible Meats received the coveted USDA Child Nutrition Label. “We are thrilled to be partnering with K-12 school districts across the country to lower barriers to access our plant-based meat for this change-making generation.”

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who was born and raised on a rural Iowa family farm, has called on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure students will continue to have access to healthy meat options at schools. The Senator’s letter to the Secretary asked that USDA keep political statements disincentivizing meat consumption out of our taxpayer-funded school nutrition programs.

Food transformation efforts are ramping up. These are political statements where cows and climate are concerned, not backed by science, but rather marketing campaigns to sell billionaire-invested fake foods designed to replace animals. (World Wildlife Fund, the dairy and beef checkoff sustainability partner, figures into this quite prominently.)

As previously reported in FarmshineImpossible Foods announced on May 11 that it had secured the coveted Child Nutrition Label (CN Label) from the USDA. The food crediting statements provide federal meal guidance to schools across the country. The CN label also makes this imitation meat eligible for national school lunch funding.

“This represents a milestone for entering the K-12 market,” the CEO Brown stated, adding that the use of their fake-burger in schools could translate to “huge environmental savings.” (actually, it’s more accurate to say it will translate to huge cash in billionaire investor pockets.)

Concerned about ‘political statements’ made by USDA and others surrounding the CN label approval — along with past USDA activity on ‘Meatless Mondays’ initiated by Vilsack’s USDA during the Obama-Biden administration —  Sen. Ernst wrote in her letter to now-again current Sec. Vilsack: “School nutrition programs should be exempt from political statements dictating students’ dietary options. Programs like ‘Meatless Monday’ and other efforts to undermine meat as a healthy, safe and environmentally responsible choice hurt our agriculture industry and impact the families, farmers, and ranchers of rural states that feed our nation.”

No public information has been found on how Impossible Foods may or may not have altered its fake-burger for school use. My request for a copy of the Child Nutrition Label from USDA AMS Food Nutrition Services, which granted the label, were met with resistance.

Here is the response to my request from USDA AMS FNS: “This office is responsible for the approval of the CN logo on product packaging. In general, the CN labeling office does not provide copies of product labels. This office usually suggests you contact the manufacturer directly for more information.”

I reached out to Impossible for a copy of the nutrition details for the school product. No response.

It’s obvious the commercial label for Impossible is light years away from meeting three big ‘nutrition’ items regulated by USDA AMS FNS. They are: Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Calories.

As it stands now, the nutrition label at Impossible Foods’ website shows that a 4-oz Impossible Burger contains 8 grams of saturated fat. That’s 3 more grams than an 8-oz cup of Whole Milk, which is forbidden in schools because of its saturated fat content. The Impossible Burger also has more saturated fat than an 85/15 lean/fat 4-oz All Beef Burger (7g).

Sodium of Impossible Burger’s 4-oz patty is 370mg! This compares to an All Beef at 75g and a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder (with condiments) at 210 mg. Whole Milk has 120 mg sodium and is banned from schools.

The Impossible Burger 4-oz. patty also has more calories than an All Beef patty and more calories than an 8 ounce cup of Whole Milk. But there’s the ticket. USDA is hung up on percent of calories from fat. If the meal is predominantly Impossible Burger, then the saturated fat (more grams) become a smaller percent of total calories when the fake burger has way more calories! Clever.

In her letter to Vilsack, Sen. Ernst observes that, “Animal proteins ensure students have a healthy diet that allows them to develop and perform their best in school. Real meat, eggs, and dairy are the best natural sources of high quality, complete protein according to Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair of the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. Meat, eggs, and dairy provide essential amino acids that are simply not present in plants. They are also natural sources of Vitamin B12, which promotes brain development in children, and zinc, which helps the immune system function properly.”

She’s right. A recent Duke University study goes behind the curtain to show the real nutritional comparisons, the fake stuff is not at all nutritionally equivalent. But USDA will allow our kids to continue to be guinea pigs.

In May, Ernst introduced legislation — called the TASTEE Act — that would prohibit federal agencies from establishing policies that ban serving meat. She’s looking ahead. Sen. Ernst is unfortunately the only sponsor for this under-reported legislation to-date.

Meanwhile, within days of the Impossible CN approval from USDA, school foodservice directors reported being bombarded with messaging from the school nutrition organizations and foodservice companies, especially the big one — Sodexo — urging methods and recipes to reduce their meal-serving carbon footprint by using less beef for environmental reasons, and to begin incorporating the approved Impossible.

The Junior Scholastic Weekly Reader for public school students across the nation — dated May 11, the same day as the USDA CN Label approval for ‘Impossible Burger’ — ran a cover story headlined “This burger could help the planet” followed by these words in smaller type: “Producing beef takes a serious toll on the environment. Could growing meat in a lab be part of the solution?”

The story inside the May 11 scholastic magazine began with the title: “This meat could save the planet” and was illustrated with what looked like a package of ground beef, emblazoned with the words: “Fake Meat.”

Impossible Foods is blunt. They say they are targeting children with school-system science and social studies (marketing disguised as curriculum) — calling the climate knowledge of kids “the missing piece.”

In the company’s “Impossible Kids Rule” report, they identify kids as the target consumer for their products, and how to get them to give up real meat and dairy.

Toward the end of the report is this excerpt:“THE MISSING PIECE: While most kids are aware of climate change, care about the issues, and feel empowered to do something about it, many aren’t fully aware of the key factors contributing to it. In one study, 84% of the surveyed young people agreed they needed more information to prevent climate change. Of the 1,200 kids we surveyed, most are used to eating meat every week—99% of kids eat animal meat at least once a month, and 97% eat meat at least once a week. Without understanding the connection between animal agriculture and climate change, it’s easy to see why there has been so little action historically on their parts. Kids are unlikely to identify animal agriculture as a key climate threat because they often don’t know that it is. Similar to adults, when we asked kids what factors they thought contributed to climate change, raising animals for meat and dairy was at the bottom by nearly 30 points.

After showing the impressionable children Impossible marketing, they saw a big change in those “awareness” percentages and noted that teachers and schools would be the largest influencers to bring “planet and plate” together in the minds of children, concluding the report with these words:

When kids are educated on the connection between plate and planet
and presented with a delicious solution, they’re ready to make a change. And adults might just follow their lead,” the Impossible Kids Rule report said.

USDA is right with them, piloting Impossible Burger at five large schools using the Impossible brand name to replace ground beef with fake meat in spaghetti sauce, tacos and other highlighted meals. This allows brand marketing associated with the name — free advertising to the next generation disguised as “climate friendly” options with marketing messages cleverly disguised as “education.”

In the New York City school system, one of the pilot schools for Impossible, new guidelines are currently being developed to climate-document foods and beverages served in the schools.

Impossible doesn’t have a dairy product yet, but the company says it is working on them.

Impossible’s competitor Beyond Meat is also working on plant-based protein beverages with PepsiCo in the PLANeT Partnership the two companies forged in January 2021. PepsiCo is the largest consumer packaged goods company globally and has its own K-12 Foodservice company distributing “USDA-compliant” beverages, meals and snacks for schools.

How can this brand-marketing in school meals be legal? Dairy farmers pay millions to be in the schools with programs like FUTP60 and are not allowed to “market”. In fact, dairy checkoff leaders recently admitted they have a 12-year “commitment” to USDA to “advance” the low-fat / fat-free Dietary Guidelines in schools, top to bottom, not just the dairy portion.

Pepsico has a long history of meal and beverage brand-linking in schools. Working with Beyond, they will assuredly be next on the Child Nutrition alternative protein label to hit our kids’ USDA-controlled meals.

Like many things that have been evolving incrementally — now kicking into warp speed ahead of the September 2021 United Nations Food System Transformation Summit — the taxpayer-funded school lunch program administrated by USDA is a huge gateway for these companies. Ultimately, will parents and children know what is being consumed or offered? Who will choose? Who will balance the ‘edu-marketing’? Will school boards and foodservice directors eventually even have a choice as huge global companies mix and match proteins and market meal kits that are guaranteed to be USDA-compliant… for climate?

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The long and the short of it

In all, 11 people testified during the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee’s public hearing about the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. I testified (right) in one of three panels, which also included (l-r) Nelson Troutman, Bernie Morrissey and Jackie Behr.
Below is the shorter, oral version of my full written testimony for the June 16, 2021 public hearing.

By Sherry Bunting

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.

An example…

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.”

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‘Got milk, PA? Ag Sec awards $400,000 Farm-to-School, but where’s the milk?

PA Farm Bill Farm-to-School education grants aim to bridge the gap between children and the food system by connecting them to the fresh, healthy food available from Pennsylvania agricultural producers in their community and the surrounding areas. The 39 grants announced April 30th, totaling $400,000 for 2020-21, and they are thin on real dairy even though real dairy is 37% of Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy. Composite image by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 14, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Increasing childhood nutrition and agricultural awareness is the stated purpose of $400,000 in grant awards made recently as part of the Pennsylvania Farm Bill.

On April 30th, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding announced 39 Farm to School grants of up to $15,000 each “to improve access to healthy, local foods and increase agricultural awareness opportunities for children pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.”

The trouble is, among the 39 projects receiving the total of $400,000, dairy is not mentioned, even though the Secretary recently confirmed when asked by state senators that dairy accounts for 37% of the Commonwealth’s agricultural backbone.

(As reported in Farmshine April 23, the Secretary also evaded Senate questions about legalizing whole milk as a simple choice for children in Pennsylvania schools, citing instead that the Dietary Guidelines maintain three servings of dairy a day and that the industry should focus on all the dairy products in school meals.)

“The children of today are the future of Pennsylvania agriculture,” said Redding in a press release announcing the $400,000 in Farm to School grants that are part of the PA Farm Bill’s 2020-21 budget cycle.

“Reviewing these 39 projects, and their goals to invest in programming that not only improves childhood nutrition but gives them opportunities for first-hand agricultural experiences to grow their knowledge and awareness, I see a bright future for the industry that feeds Pennsylvania,” Redding stated.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture statements, this grant program “aims to enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing food purchasing and education at schools and early childhood education sites.”

Any school district, charter school or private school with pre-kindergarten classes, kindergarten, or elementary through fifth grade was eligible to apply.

This week, Farmshine questioned the Pa. Department of Agriculture about the glaring absence of milk in the list of 39 grants awarded. Most of the grants involved school gardens and were tied to local produce grown in Pennsylvania. Some were projects linking to local poultry and eggs.

Dairy and beef were not mentioned at all. The only (not really) dairy reference in the Department’s press release was a grant to the Dubois Area School District in conjunction with Danone North America.

Before thinking Danone represents dairy in this case, think again.

Dubois is home to Danone’s flagship plant-based dairy-free alternative ‘yogurt’, ‘cheese’ and powdered ‘nutritional’ beverage plant.

In fact, Danone’s 180,000 square foot facility on 24 acres of the former airport in Clearfield County is the largest plant-based dairy-alternative plant in the United States.

At the 2019 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Danone’s multi-million-dollar plant-based expansion, the facility’s director, Chad Stone, highlighted “flexitarian” eating patterns as “people are interested in lessening their impact on the environment through diet.”

This plant-based “environmental” theme is already being pushed into school curricula and school foodservice at the national level (see related article in this edition of Farmshine).

In the Pa. Department of Agriculture’s response to our questions about the Farm to School grants lacking dairy, spokesperson Shannon Powers replied to identify five of the 39 grants as “including a dairy component in their application.”

One of the five she highlighted is the Clearfield County grant of $14,985 to the Dubois Area School District for “experiential learning and curricula” that includes “life on a dairy farm” via a field trip to a dairy farm (Kennis Farm was identified in the application). Powers also identified Danone as “a major dairy producer” but indicated that this grant provides experiential learning and curricula through the Danone facility in Dubois “that produces plant-based foods and beverages.”

Instead of using real local milk to make real yogurt, cheese and nutritional beverage powders, this Danone plant specializes in bringing in almonds, coconuts and cashews to make dairy substitutes as a so-called means of reducing “environmental impact” with new “choices” on grocery shelves.

(It’s hard to imagine how the almonds, cashews and coconuts listed in the Vega Protein, So Delicious and Silk brand yogurt, cheese and powder made at the Dubois plants could be locally-grown in Pennsylvania, a top-10 real dairy milk-producing state that is admittedly in ‘search’ of more dairy processing capability).

As for the other four Farm to School grants the Department identified in an email response as containing a dairy component, they are as follows:

In Erie County, a grant for $15,000 to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will do an experiential learning project that includes a dairy field trip.

In Lawrence County, the LCSS Healthy Start Micro Farm Project received $10,000 for a project that includes the purchase of local cheeses and other foods along with a school garden to supply the school kitchen.

In Lackawanna County, a grant of $3,356 to the Bright Future Learning Center was awarded to distribute Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes to preschool children and includes farm field trips. The application noted that fresh local milk would be included in the CSA produce boxes.

In Tioga and Bradford counties, a $15,000 grant was awarded to Stepping Stones Preschool and includes a field trip to a dairy farm to learn about the cheese-making process.

“The PA Farm Bill’s Farm to School grants are awarded to schools and other educational entities to foster early interest in and exposure to agriculture careers and to encourage students to consume fresh, locally-produced foods and develop healthy eating habits,” writes Powers in her Pa. Department of Agriculture response to Farmshine’s questions.

She notes that while dairy is not specifically mentioned in applicants’ proposals, “dairy destinations and themes are included among field trips, and dairy is part of curricula schools develop with grant funds.”

Dairy products are already “virtually always among PA-produced foods served in schools but getting locally-sourced produce into school lunch programs is a greater challenge,” Powers as Pa. Dept. of Agriculture spokesperson stated.

While dairy has been a predominantly ‘local’ product in schools over the years, today, local dairy’s position in Pennsylvania schools is waning. A good example is the removal of the choice of whole milk from schools in 2010 when the federal government tied school lunches more closely to USDA’s flawed Dietary Guidelines.

The most local dairy product available to any school is whole milk. Instead, today, with only fat-free and 1% low-fat milks permitted in schools, and a complex set of rules for meals to mandatorily conform to Dietary Guidelines, large foodservice companies – including PepsiCo – promise ‘guaranteed compliant’ meals and beverages, and schools are moving toward this type of sourcing.

In fact, the beverages students purchase after discarding fat-free and 1% low-fat milk are anything but local or nutritious, but they meet USDA government guidelines because they contain no fat and are formulated with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener combinations to meet calorie thresholds.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture, there were 57 applicants for this second round of Farm to School grants. The Farm to School grants were created under the 2019 PA Farm Bill and were funded again in 2020 and proposed for re-funding in the Governor’s 2021-22 budget.

When asked about grant applications that were denied, Powers replied: “Applicants not awarded grants did not meet the criteria or submitted incomplete applications. None of those applications included a dairy element.”

Our questions to the Center for Dairy Excellence, asking if they were aware of any Farm to School grants applications that involved curricula to highlight dairy or connect schools with local dairy, were not immediately answered; however, the Pa. Department of Agriculture in its response was quick to point out its other programs for dairy, as follows:

“The PA Dairy Investment Program in 2019 and Dairy Indemnity Program in 2020 are examples of state funding that has been available exclusively for dairy producers,” writes Powers. “In addition, the PA Farm Bill and Ag research grants include research dollars devoted to developing healthy, economical feed and bedding and controlling disease; conservation dollars to help improve soil and water quality and ensure future productivity; an Agricultural Business Development Center to help connect farmers with funding, grant resources, transition planning and a host of other support that benefits all Pennsylvania producers, including dairy.”

Powers also mentioned “Preferential tax programs like Clean & Green, REAP, Beginning Farmer Tax Credits, and a number of grants from other departments, including the departments of Environmental Protection and Community & Economic Development are available to dairy farmers” and reminds dairy producers seeking financial and planning resources from the state and private partners to “contact the PA Agricultural Business Development Center or the Center for Dairy Excellence, another state-funded entity created specifically to support the needs of PA dairy farmers.”

In a nutshell, the Department of Agriculture views dairy products in schools as already being local and is focusing Farm to School grants on getting other local products, especially produce, into schools. The Department was quick to identify a handful of the 39 Farm to School grants that will include a dairy farm field trip component. One grant the Department highlighted includes experiential learning by visiting a dairy farm and then visiting a plant-based alternative dairy replacement processing facility. And, the Department believes it is providing considerable financial and resource help to dairy farmers to improve their sustainability and to diversify or “transition.”

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PA Ag Secretary Redding sidesteps school milk question, cites other priorities

Pa. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding sidestepped questions about school milk during State Senate budget hearings. He listed other priorities of advocacy in the “federal conversation” and cited the need for new processing for Pennsylvania’s dairy future. Screenshot photo of hearing on zoom

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 23, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. – During the Pennsylvania Senate budget hearings in April, in a question-and-answer exchange with Senator David Argall, representing Berks and Schuylkill counties, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding talked about advocating for trade agreements, pricing policies, dairy investment and nutrition in “the federal conversation.”

However, on the question of advocating to legalize whole milk choice in schools? Asked twice. Not answered.

In fact, the Secretary’s entire agriculture budget testimony included just one small paragraph about dairy — something Sen. Argall picked up on and questioned. He asked Redding what portion of overall Pennsylvania agriculture is represented by dairy, to which the Secretary replied “about 37%.”

When pushed on what the department is doing, Redding said: “I can tell you dairy is about 37% of my conversations — even though the testimony doesn’t reflect that.”

“We have made real progress in dairy and have been part of that conversation, but there is still more to do for dairy to remain viable and remain at 37%,” said Redding, citing the work of the Dairy Futures Commission, but few details.

Asked to look five to 10 years down the road, the Secretary said the dairy industry has had some “really incredible years in the last five and some incredibly bad years in the last five. It is always going to be sustainable,” he said, “but the question is: Are we going to have those good years to make up for the bad years?”

(It has been seven years since a truly good year was experienced by dairy producers.)

The Secretary pinned the hopes of the future for dairy in Pennsylvania on “getting new processing.” 

Redding stated: “We can compete on the farm. We can compete as a state. But we have to compete at the marketplace too. I remain encouraged by what we’re doing, but we have to keep pressing to make sure we get the right state and federal policies.”

However, there is one federal policy at the core of fluid milk marketing that the Secretary evaded.

Sen. Argall pointed out the 2010 federal policy that removed whole milk from schools.

“Do you see a solution to that issue, and is that really a big part of the overall problem?” the Senator asked.

“I think it is certainly a contributor, and I hear it all the time about whole milk. But what I try to encourage the dairy industry is to look at where total dairy consumption is — the 1%, the 2%, the whole milk — and can you get more cheese, get more yogurt in, can you get more dairy products into that school diet,” Redding replied.

“I think that’s probably what we have to keep our eye on,” he continued. “It’s going to take all of that product mix for us to turn this trend around of just dairy consumption generally. It’s a complicated equation. All of us need to keep pressing on the Congress to do more, to keep our trade agreements in place, and I can tell you… we’ve had some difficult (trade) steps for the last several years.”

(The last several years saw record volumes of exports. Tom Vilsack, current U.S. Ag Secretary and former U.S. Dairy Export Council president wrote in a blog post that 2018 was “a banner year for dairy exporters.” We all recall what 2018 was like for dairy farmers.)

Sec. Redding also referenced the negative PPDs on milk checks as an issue. He stated that, “The price difference between Class III and IV has cost Pennsylvania dearly, so that’s also part of the federal conversation.”

Sen. Argall picked up on the Secretary’s mention of ‘federal conversation,’ asking a second time about whole milk in schools.

“Are you working with anyone across the country to try to repeal that portion of the (federal) act that has greatly reduced the number of students (allowed) to drink whole milk in the schools?” the Senator asked.

“We have not been engaged in repeal. We have been engaged in what I mentioned earlier, about making sure that the Dietary Guidelines include dairy, and they do continue the three a day,” said Redding. “We have continued to advocate for continued investment in dairy, making sure that we do the trade (exports), making sure we have the pricing pieces.”

The Secretary went on to say; “We are advocating at a lot of different levels for dairy on the nutrition side and also the dairy investment side.”

In regard to new processing, after years of discussion, two dairy bills were passed by the House in the 2019-20 session, only to die in the Senate Ag Committee. One was a dairy keystone opportunity zones bill and the other was a bill dealing with transparency and distribution of state-mandated over-order premiums. Both bills, sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence had passed unanimously or nearly unanimously in the House last session.

During a meeting last week of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, a committee member, noted a dairy redevelopment project in his county that looked to be a sure thing, only to be dropped.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has dropped from fifth to seventh, and now eighth in the nation in dairy production.

“This has gone on as the dairy industry consolidates,” said Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer, member of the grassroots committee, chairman of National Dairy Producers Organization and executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets.

“The Secretary mentions the momentum we have from fluid milk consumption rising recently. Increased sales of whole milk are a key to that increase. Legalizing whole milk choice in schools makes sense for children and dairy farmers,” Eby explained.

“Everything is political in this. Why do we not have whole milk in schools? People have no clue how important this is for dairy farmers. We have already lost a generation of milk drinkers,” notes Dale Hoffman, a Potter County dairy producer and member of the grassroots committee having worked on this issue for several years. 

Even the Pennsylvania Dairy Futures Commission, which was referenced by Sec. Redding in his comment about “making progress,” addressed the issue of whole milk in schools. 

The Commission was established by the state assembly in 2019 and issued its lengthy report in Aug. 2020 on a broad range of dairy issues. In one area of the report, the Commission made recommendations to improve the school milk experience, specifically stating: “Federal school milk program standards should allow the flexibility to offer a choice in flavored and unflavored milk, including whole milk.”

While several key state lawmakers report they are looking for an opening to do something on this at the state level, Secretary Redding evades the question, even changing the subject when asked about whether he is advocating for this in the federal conversation.

Instead, the Secretary responded by saying the Department advocates in the federal conversation for trade agreements, pricing pieces, and on the nutrition side being satisfied to have the ‘3-a-day’ in the school diet.

Here are a few questions Pennsylvania dairy producers may want to ask Pa. Ag Secretary Redding, by contacting the Pa. Department of Agriculture at 717-787-4737.

— Why does the Secretary advocate for ‘trade’ while completely sidestepping the question about advocating for whole milk choice in schools?

— Does the Secretary support Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson’s bill H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to legalize whole milk choice in schools?

— Will the Dept. of Agriculture advocate for the health of children and the Commonwealth’s ag community by advocating for the bipartisan efforts to bring the choice of whole milk back to schools?

— In the budget hearing, Sec. Redding again identified the need for more processing in Pennsylvania. With properties up for redevelopment over the past few years in the heart of dairy areas, what is being done to encourage redevelopment projects for dairy processing?

— Given at least one such project was underway and then abandoned, what are the influences and obstacles?

The effort to legalize the choice of whole milk in schools is a federal and state issue. Public awareness has been increased over the past two years through the joint efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, including a petition that is being revitalized as the U.S. Congress and State Assembly begin a new legislative session. Graphic by Sherry Bunting

Feeling good about milk

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 11, 2021

“The beverage industry is savage.”

So says Rohan Oza, an American businessman, investor, and marketing expert behind several large brands. He was with Coca Cola until 2002 and in the past 19 years has the distinction of being a brand mastermind behind Vitaminwater, Smartwater and Bai beverages, among others, and he has been a recurring guest on Shark Tank, a television show where entrepreneurs pitch their fledgling businesses to several investor “sharks” in hopes of getting an investment deal for a percentage of equity in their businesses.

In an archived episode of Shark Tank from 2018 when a husband and wife pitched their apple cider drink, known today as Poppi, Oza had other pearls of wisdom to share about the beverage industry.

He said the largest companies aren’t creating the drinks, they’ve perfected the manufacturing and distribution. Instead, they rely on entrepreneurs to have the vision to bring a new beverage to market.

Packaging and marketing matter. Information is power. Flavor is king.

Oza said consumers want beverages they can feel good about.

That’s what has been missing over four decades in the milk industry, especially the past decade since 2010 when fluid milk sales took the sharpest nosedive. This has stabilized a bit in the past two years as whole milk sales rose 1% and 2.6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively, providing a bit of a safety net to overall fluid milk losses.

There is an innovative and entrepreneurial trend in bringing to market new dairy-based beverages that contain dairy protein, or ultrafiltered low-fat milk as an ingredient. However, MILK, itself, as a beverage, lost its power to make people feel good because people were not empowered with good information, and children were robbed of opportunities to choose the good milk — whole milk — at schools and daycares.

What milk itself lost as a beverage was the power to make people feel good about drinking it — because people lost touch with what they were getting from milk, what whole milk actually does for them. One big reason? GenZ-ers (and to some degree millennials) have grown up drinking (or tossing) the low-fat or fat-free milk as their only choices in school, and then found themselves searching for something else to drink in the a la carte line.

That’s changing. Research, studies and scientific papers keep coming forward, identifying the benefits of whole milk. When people try it, a common reaction is, “this is the good milk.”

Yes, whole milk is winning customers. Efforts by dairy producers — at large and through organizations like 97 Milk — have been focusing lately on giving the public the information they need about whole milk to make informed choices. It’s about giving people the opportunity to know what whole milk can do for them, and we hope that bills in the United States Congress as well as conversations with the Pennsylvania State Senate bear fruit in the ongoing effort to legalize the choice of whole milk in schools… so future generations can feel good about milk too.

We notice that if USDA can give the coveted Child Nutrition label to the Impossible Burger — a fake meat product with more saturated fat (8 grams) in a 4 ounce patty than whole milk (5 grams) in an 8 ounce glass and more sodium (370 mg for Impossible vs. 120 for whole milk) and more calories, then surely USDA can loosen its grip on the fat content of the milk choices for children in schools. Incidentally, the USDA approval of Impossible for school lunch is really a head scratcher next to 85/15 real beef because the real thing has less saturated fat, less sodium, and fewer calories.

Yes, USDA qualified Impossible Burger for reimbursement with taxpayer funds in the National School Lunch Program, but still outright forbids the choice of whole milk in schools.

USDA and Congress are moving toward universal free lunch and breakfast (even supper and snack) for all kids. FDA is in the procedural phase of developing a “healthy” symbol for foods that “earn” it — according to whom? Dietary Guidelines! The trend in government is toward giving consumers less information on a label, not more.

This is why milk education and freedom of choice are more important than ever. Even the Hartman Group young consumer insights cited at PepsiCo’s K-12 foodservice website state that GenZ-ers show a preference for ‘fast food’ and ‘familiar tastes.’ Millennials and GenZ-ers both show high preference for foods they grew up with.

Kids need to grow up able to choose the good milk — whole milk — not have that choice forbidden. That’s why the milk kids get to choose at school where they get 1, 2, even 3 meals a day is so important.

Give them the choice of the good milk that is good for them, and the power of information, and they’ll remember feeling good about milk.

Happy June Dairy Month! A big thanks to dairy farmers for all they do.