By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 3, 2023
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania has dairy champions in Congress. Not only has Rep. Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-15th) introduced the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and made it better, Rep. John Joyce (R-13th) is getting ready to launch the House version of the Dairy Pride Act to uphold real milk’s standard of identity.
It’s “more urgent than ever” that Congress act on these bills, in light of recent USDA and FDA proposed rules, said Thompson in a Farmshine phone interview as Congress returned to session Monday (Feb. 27).
The bipartisan 2023 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1147, has been introduced for just over one week, and already the number of congressional cosponsors grows daily at 43 to-date, including prime sponsor Rep. Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania and prime cosponsor Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat and pediatrician from Washington state.
The other 41 cosponsors so far represent both sides of the aisle from 22 states.
“I’m very honored to reintroduce this whole milk legislation. We made some real progress in the 117th Congress with not quite 100 cosponsors and broad bipartisan support. That’s what it takes to get things done,” said Thompson. “But we had headwinds with the Republicans not having the majority and the Democratic party owning the demonization of milkfat and the removal of whole milk and flavor from the school system.”
What will be different this time?
Thompson explained it’s a new Congress and he has the support of the new Education and Workforce Committee chair Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina.
“She is very excited about this bill and has had me speaking on it at a number of events over the past year,” said Thompson.
In addition to being chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Thompson is also a senior member of the Education and Workforce Committee through which the Whole Milk bill must pass first.
Thompson believes it will be put on the House agenda, and he is optimistic that it will get passed off the House floor.
He is also looking for a sponsor for companion legislation in the Senate.
He said he appreciated former Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who had previously introduced a version of the bill.
“With Senator Toomey’s retirement from the Senate, we now have to find someone to take the lead in the Senate,” he said.
The fact that the number of cosponsors has grown quickly for the House bill, within the first few days, is a good sign.
This response so far has happened without Thompson “working the floor” yet.
This “speaks to the significant need that this legislation addresses,” he said.
“This bill is about providing the best nutrition for children and addressing the economic impact on rural America,” he explained. “When the Democrats did what they did in 2010 with the nutrition standards, it was a crushing blow to dairy farmers. Dairy is the number one ag commodity in my home state of Pennsylvania, and agriculture is the number one industry. This is the case not just in Pennsylvania.
“This topic comes up everywhere I go and in every state,” he added. “Part of the reason is the awareness as many people and organizations, and quite frankly the 97 Milk grassroots effort, has impacted nationally and internationally by speaking to this need.”
Thompson improved the bill with what he calls a “common sense addition.”
He acknowledged former Senator Toomey for articulating language that would allow whole and 2% milk to fit within the meal calculation for saturated fat since the milk has been included in the meal calculation since 2010.
This way, not only does the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act proclaim the permission for whole and 2% unflavored and flavored milk options in school meals, it expands the saturated fat limit to accommodate these options so school foodservice directors are empowered to actually offer them.
“Milk is the only beverage that is regulated within the meal. Meanwhile, students may have access to non-nutritious beverages with high fructose corn syrup and caffeine that are not regulated, so we’re making sure we do not have a situation where the milkfat counts against the meal,” said Thompson.
“Whole milk is only 3 to 3.5% fat compared to the low-fat milk being 1%. That means whole milk is 96.5 to 97% fat free. That extra milkfat is a positive thing in the lives of those young people,” Thompson declared, with a nod to the mountain of scientific evidence.
As the White House is moving rapidly in its proclaimed “whole of government approach” to implement the Biden-Harris Hunger, Nutrition and Health National Strategy, a flurry of bureaucratic actions could further affect milk access for children via USDA and FDA.
USDA just published proposed school nutrition rules, with comment period ending April 10, 2023, which could remove access to flavored milk in elementary and potentially middle schools, while further etching in concrete the fat-free and 1% sole options.
FDA’s healthy labeling proposed rule also presents obstacles for whole milk, and that comment period recently ended.
Plus, FDA last week issued draft guidance allowing imitation non-dairy beverages to be labeled as ‘milk’ with only a ‘voluntary’ recommendation that companies describe shortfalls in key nutrients. That public comment period ends April 24, 2023 (see related article in this week’s Farmshine).
Will the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act force revisions of any of these proposed rules?
Rep. Thompson was outspoken on this question.
“I don’t believe they have the authority to do what they are doing now,” he stated.
“These moves are an outgrowth of the White House summit that they weren’t serious about. They failed to invite Republicans, including the Ranking Member of the Ag Committee until 48 hours before the conference. They didn’t want our input. It is more political science than science, and it is really frustrating,” he related.
“It is the Congress that determines nutritional standards, not the bureacrats. While the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids bill is mostly in the Education and Workforce Committee, I will do all I can in the Ag Committee to make sure science, not political science, is foremost.
“Science shows whole milk and whole milk with flavor added, are the most nutritious beverage available,” said Thompson.
On the FDA draft guidance for labeling fake-milk alternatives as ‘milk’, Thompson was even more blunt.
“The Dairy Pride Act is being reintroduced by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA). This bill is more important than ever given the insane draft guidance of the Biden-FDA. It is urgent to pass this one also,” said Thompson, confirming later that the Dairy Pride Act, which was introduced in the Senate this week will also be introduced in the House shortly by Rep. Joyce, along with a bipartisan cosponsor.
Thompson lamented the bombardment of parents and kids with marketing for alternative fake-milk beverages that are proliferating rapidly.
“I have a lot of friends among almond growers and soybean growers, and I like almonds, but this is about truth in advertising. The word ‘milk’ communicates a certain level of nutrition, and FDA has even acknowledged this. If FDA is going to mislead people by allowing the labeling of something as milk that is not milk, then they should be required to truly define the differences,” he said, adding that he’s not surprised.
“This administration can’t define what a woman is, and now it can’t define what milk is,” Thompson declared.
Stay tuned to Farmshine for updates!