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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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.

Bipartisan Whole Milk bill introduced in U.S. Congress

U.S. House Ag Committee ranking member G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) is pictured here at a listening session in the summer of 2019. At that time, he mentioned the work of the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk as one of the best things happening in dairy. Last week, he reintroduced his bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2021, H.R. 1861.

Will third time be charm? Will Penna. and N.Y. consider state legislation?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (Pa.-15th) wasted no time reintroducing the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in the 117th congressional session. Although the official text of the bill introduced last Thursday, March 11 is not yet available, Thompson noted in February it would include a few structural improvements over the earlier versions.

Thompson is now the Republican Leader of the House Agriculture Committee, and he cosponsored the bipartisan whole milk bill, H.R. 1861 with Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19th), a Democrat.

Essentially, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act allows for unflavored and flavored whole milk to be offered in school cafeterias. This choice is currently prohibited under USDA rules of implementation from the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that Congress passed 11 years ago to tie school lunch and other USDA food nutrition services more closely to the low-fat and fat-free stipulations from decades of USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines. These DGAs continue to ignore the science about milkfat and saturated fat – especially where children are concerned.

“Milk provides nine essential nutrients as well as a great deal of long-term health benefits. Due to the baseless demonization of milk over the years, we’ve lost nearly an entire generation of milk drinkers, and these young people are missing out on the benefits of whole milk,” said Rep. Thompson in a statement last Friday.

“It is my hope the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will give children a wide variety of milk options and bolster milk consumption — a win-win for growing children and America’s dairy farmers,” Rep. Thompson stated.

Rep. Delgado added: “The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will help young people maintain a healthy diet while supporting our upstate dairy farmers and processors. I am proud to lead this bipartisan effort to provide more choices for healthy and nutritious milk in schools. This legislation is good for young people and good for our dairy producers in today’s tough farm economy.”

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk are hoping the third time is the charm for this legislation. Last month, they met virtually last month with Rep. Thompson, and last fall on school milk and other dairy policy concerns. Congressman Thompson has made the Whole Milk for Healthy Kid Act a high priority over the past four years during the past two legislative sessions. Some members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk have been working on the school milk issue for a decade or more, and on the issues surrounding the flawed DGAs for even longer. 

Arden Tewksbury of Progressive Agriculture Organization has been working on this issue for many years. In addition to dairy advocacy, the retired dairy farmer is also a decades-long school board director in northern Pennsylvania.

Rep. Thompson indicated last month that he would restructure the proposed legislation for reintroduction this session, with some tweaks that should make it more workable for school foodservice directors.

He explains that in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which amended nutrition standards in the School Lunch Program. Among the changes, the law mandated that school lunches and other government-supported feeding programs be tied directly to the DGAs. The USDA at that time promulgated rules requiring flavored milk to be offered only as fat-free, and that unflavored milk could only be fat-free or 1% low-fat milk. 

Schools are audited by USDA for dietary compliance, and their compliance record affects not just their school food reimbursements, but also the educational funds a district receives for federal mandates.

USDA, in 2017, allowed schools to offer 1% low-fat flavored milk. This was a small positive change after statistics showed schools served 232 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2014 to 2016, and school milk was among the most discarded items in school waste studies conducted by USDA and EPA in conjunction with other organizations.

In fact, a Pennsylvania school — working with the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — offered milk at all fat levels to middle and high school students in a 2019-20 school year trial. Their findings showed students chose whole milk 3 to 1 over 1% low-fat milk. During the trial, the school’s milk sales grew by 65% while the volume of discarded milk declined by 95%. This meant more students were choosing to drink milk, and far fewer students were discarding their milk and buying something else.

Tricia Adams, a member of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, sees firsthand the response of children and teens when offered whole milk. “When we have school and community tours at the farm, we offer whole milk. The children call it ‘the good milk!’” said Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County, Pa. “We thank Congressman Thompson for his tireless efforts on this issue. As dairy farmers, we work hard to produce high quality, wholesome, nutritious milk, and as parents, we want kids to be able to choose the milk they love so they get the benefits milk has to offer.”

Jackie Behr, of 97 Milk, also sees the support for whole milk through the organization’s social media platforms. “We know how good whole milk is, especially for children,” said Behr. “We see the support in emails, comments and messages from the public. The science shows the benefits of whole milk, and today, more families are choosing whole milk to drink at home. Children should have the right to choose whole milk at school.”

Whole milk choice in schools has been an important signature piece of legislation for Rep. Thompson because of the triple-impact he said he believes it will have on the health of children, the economics of dairy farming and the sustenance of rural communities.

The bill’s predecessor in the 2019-20 legislative session garnered 43 cosponsors in the House.

Starting anew in the 2021-22 congressional session, the bill will need to amass cosponsors in the coming months. A companion bill in the Senate would also be helpful because the school lunch rules come legislatively through the Committee on Education and Labor in the House and through the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs in the Senate.

What’s new this time is that the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat published a feature story Friday about the 2021 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and the School Nutrition Association made this the top story in their weekly newsletter to school foodservice director members this week. That’s good news.

Additional good news came with the official public support voiced by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). In a press statement released by Rep. Thompson’s office last Friday, March 12, leaders of both organizations commented.

“The recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans reaffirmed dairy’s central role in providing essential nutrients, including those of public health concern. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that 79% of 9-13-year-olds don’t meet the recommended intake for dairy,” stated NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern. “We commend Representatives Thompson and Delgado for introducing the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act. Whole milk provides a valuable way for children to obtain dairy’s nutritional benefits as part of a healthy eating pattern. This bill will help provide our children the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.”

On behalf of IDFA, CEO Michael Dykes DVM thanked the representatives for their leadership on this bill “to allow schools more flexibility in offering the wholesome milk varieties that children and teens enjoy at home. Expanding milk options in schools helps ensure students get the 11 essential nutrients daily that only milk provides, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and potassium,” Dykes said.

A petition organized and promoted by Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — in direct support of the earlier versions of this legislation to ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ — garnered over 30,000 signatures in 2019-20 – over 24,000 electronically online as well as over 6,000 by mail through Farmshine.

In recent weeks, the online petition has picked up new life as it has been mentioned in hearings and informal conversations with state lawmakers — especially in Pennsylvania and New York — and has been mentioned recently by food, nutrition and agriculture advocates on social media.

The whole milk petition effort has also gathered over 5000 letters of support in addition to the 30,000-plus signatures in 2019-20. These letters and submitted comments, online and by mail, came from school boards, town boards, county commissioners, school nurses, doctors, dieticians, professors, veterinarians, teachers, coaches, athletes, school foodservice directors, parents, students, and citizens at large.

The entire bundle of signatures, comments and letters were previously digitized by the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk and uploaded at each public comment opportunity during the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process. Petition packets were also provided digitally and in hard copy to key members of Congress as well as the USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary in fall 2019 and spring 2020.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk plan to revitalize the petition as an effort to amass even more public support for whole milk choice in schools. Interestingly, this is a difficult undertaking given that the majority of Americans do not even realize — and sometimes disbelieve — that their children and grandchildren currently do not have a choice and are forced to consume fat-free or 1% low-fat milk as their only milk options because whole milk cannot even be offered ‘a la carte’.

During a New York State Senate Ag Committee hearing last month, agricultural law attorney and dairy producer Lorraine Lewandrowski asked New York State Senators to consider state-level legislation to make it legal to offer whole milk in schools as a starting point vs. federal jurisdiction. Her request was met with dumbfounded shock that this was even an issue, and some indication that it was worth taking a look at.

This week, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey — chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee — met with leaders in the Pennsylvania State Senate. He reports that state legislation to allow whole milk in schools was a top priority in that discussion.

In fact, Nelson Troutman, originator of the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales has urged states to get involved on this issue from the beginning.

“We can’t fix everything at the national level, we have to save Pennsylvania,” said Troutman, a Berks County, Pennsylvania dairy farmer.

The 97 Milk education effort that became a grassroots groundswell after Troutman painted his original round bale initially focused on Pennsylvania. However, the online and social media presence of 97milk.com and @97Milk on facebook since February 2019 has become nationwide, even global, in reach and participation.

For two years, Morrissey has garnered agribusiness support for various banners, yard signs and other tangible signs of support for whole milk in schools. Requests have come in from other states. The 97 Milk group also operates solely on donations and offers several options for showing support at their online store, where purchase requests come in from across the country as well. In addition, farm photos and ideas have come into 97 Milk from producers across the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West.

In much the same way, the 30,000-plus petition supporting the choice of whole milk in schools has had heavy participation in Pennsylvania and New York. However, signatures, comments and letters have been received at various levels from all 50 states. (A small portion of signatures even came from Canada, Australia, Mexico, England, Japan, India and the continent of Africa. Those, of course, had to be removed from the packets provided to USDA. However, it is telling that the simple concept of children being able to choose whole milk is a global concern.)

Likewise, Tewksbury with Progressive Agriculture Organization has long supported the right of children to choose whole milk at school. Several petition drives by Pro Ag have also amassed the tangible support of citizens, and those petitions were provided to USDA in previous years — delivered physically in boxes.

In February, Thompson stated that there are members of the House Ag Committee who want to elevate this issue of whole milk choice in schools. Thus, now is the time for organizations to come together and issue strong position statements supporting H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and for citizens to contact their elected representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress asking for their support of the House bill and in support of a champion to come forward with a companion bill in the Senate.

The ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ online petition still references the earlier H.R. 832 and S. 1810 bills, and will be updated when official links to the reintroduced bill text for H.R.1861 become available.

Stay tuned for updates, and for those who have not previously signed this petition, go to https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools 

Bernie Morrissey continues working with producers and agribusinesses to print and distribute these yard signs of support for Whole Milk as a school lunch choice. To read more about the sign efforts taking root across PA with calls coming in from other states… click here.

U.S. ‘Dietary Guidelines’ released in wake of continued failures, Checkoff and industry organizations ‘applaud’

More than a decade of research on saturated fat is again ignored: A look at the reality of where we are and how we got here.

On the surface, the broad brush language of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines looks and sounds good. But the devil is in the details.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Make every bite count.” That’s the slogan of the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released Tuesday, December 29 by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).

In the webcast announcement from Washington, the focus was described as helping Americans meet nutritional needs primarily from nutrient-dense ‘forms’ of foods and beverages. However, because of the continued restriction on saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories, some of the most nutrient-dense foods took the biggest hits.

For example, the 2020-25 DGA executive summary describes the Dairy Group as “including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and/or lactose-free versions, and fortified soy beverages and yogurt.” 

Even though the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines exclude important dairy products from the Dairy Food Group and continue to restrict whole milk and full-fat cheese with implications for school meals, the checkoff-funded National Dairy Council says “Dairy organizations applaud.” Screenshot at https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/dairy

At the newly re-launched MyPlate website, exclusions are listed, stating “the Dairy Group does not include foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content, such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter.”

In fact, the webcast announcement flashed a slide of MyPlate materials showing consumers how to customize favorite meals for so-called ‘nutrient density’. The example was a burrito bowl, before and after applying the DGAs. Two recommended ‘improvements’ were to remove the sour cream and to replace ‘cheese’ with ‘reduced-fat cheese.’

For the first time, the DGAs included recommendations for birth to 2 years of age. The new toddler category is the only age group (up to age 2) where whole milk is recommended.

The 2020-25 DGAs “approve” just three dietary patterns for all stages of lifespan: Heathy U.S., Vegetarian, and Mediterranean. Of the three, two include 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy and one includes 2 to 2.5 cups low-fat and fat-free dairy. Protein recommendations range 2 to 7 ounces. All 3 dietary patterns are heavy on fruits, vegetables and especially grains. 

In short, the DGA Committee, USDA and HHS collectively excluded the entire past decade of research on saturated fat. Throughout the DGA process, many in the nutrition science and medical communities asked the federal government to add another dietary pattern choice that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein with a less restrictive saturated fat level — especially given the government’s own numbers shared in the Dec. 29 announcement that, today, 60% of adults have one or more diet-related chronic illnesses, 74% of adults are overweight or obese, and 40% of children are overweight or obese.

USDA and HHS shared these statistics during the announcement of the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines. The next slide stated the reason for the worsening obesity and chronic diet-related disease rates is that Americans are not following the Guidelines. And yet, this progression has a marked beginning with the 1980s start of Dietary Guidelines and has accelerated in children during the 10 years since USDA linked rules for school and daycare meals more directly to the Guidelines in 2010.

Ultimately, the 2020-25 DGAs fulfilled what appears to be a predetermined outcome by structuring its specific and limiting questions to set up the research review in a way that builds on previous cycles. This, despite letters signed by over 50 members of Congress, hundreds of doctors, as well as a research review conducted by groups of scientists that included former DGA Committee members — all critical of the DGA process. 

As current research points out, saturated fat is not consumed by itself. It is part of a nutrient-dense package that supplies vitamins and minerals the DGA Committee, itself, recognized their approved dietary patterns lack. Full-fat dairy foods and meats have complex fat profiles, including saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats, CLAs and omegas.

But USDA and HHS chose to ignore the science, and the dairy and beef checkoff and industry organizations ‘applauded.’

National Dairy Council ‘applauds,’ NCBA ‘thrilled’

Both the checkoff-funded National Dairy Council (NDC) and checkoff-funded self-described Beef Board contractor National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) were quick to respond with public statements.

An NCBA spokesperson was quoted in several mainstream articles saying beef producers are “thrilled with the new guidelines affirming lean beef in a healthy diet.”

NDC stated in the subject line of its news release to media outlets that “dairy organizations applaud affirmation of dairy’s role in new Dietary Guidelines.”

The NDC news release stated: “Daily inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods is recommended in all three DGA healthy dietary patterns. Following the guidelines is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The dairy checkoff news release also identified nutrient deficiencies that are improved by consuming dairy but failed to mention how fat in whole milk, full-fat cheese and other dairy products improves nutrient absorption.

Checkoff-funded NDC’s news release described the DGAs as “based on a sound body of peer-reviewed research.” The news release further identified the guidelines’ continued saturated fat limits at no more than 10% of calories but did not take the opportunity to mention the excluded peer-reviewed research showing saturated fat, milkfat, whole milk and full-fat dairy foods are beneficial for health, vitamin D and other nutrient absorption, all-cause mortality, satiety, carbohydrate metabolism, type 2 diabetes and neutral to beneficial in terms of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

They did not take the opportunity to encourage future consideration of the ignored body of research. Even National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) included a fleeting mention of its hopes for future fat flexibility in its own DGA congratulatory news release.

The checkoff-funded NDC news release did reveal its key priority: Sustainability. This topic is not part of the guidelines, but NDC made sustainability a part of their news release about the guidelines, devoting one-fourth of their communication to this point, listing “sustainable food systems” among its “dietary” research priorities, and stating the following:

“While these Guidelines don’t include recommendations for sustainable food systems, the U.S. dairy community has commitments in place to advance environmental sustainability,” the National Dairy Council stated in its DGA-applauding news release. “Earlier (in 2020), the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals, which include achieving carbon neutrality or better, optimizing water usage and improving water quality.”

(Remember, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher told farm reporters in December that “sustainable nutrition” will be the new phrase. It is clear that the dairy checkoff is on-board the ‘planetary diets’ train).

International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also issued news releases praising the inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy in the DGAs and upholding the guidelines as ‘science-based.’

According to the Nutrition Coalition, and a panel of scientists producing a parallel report showing the nutrient-dense benefits of unprocessed meat and full fat dairy as well as no increased risk of heart disease or diabetes, the 2020-25 DGAs excluded more than a decade of peer-reviewed saturated fat research right from the outset.

The exclusion of a decade or more of scientific evidence sends a clear message from the federal government — the entrenched bureaucracy — that it does not intend to go back and open the process to true scientific evaluation. In this way, the DGAs dovetail right into ‘sustainable nutrition’ and ‘planetary diets’ gradually diluting animal protein consumption as part of the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset for food transformationEAT Lancet style.

So, while dairy checkoff is applauding the DGAs, dairy producers are lamenting the way the guidelines rip key products right out of the dairy food group.

Saturated fat and added sugars combined

A less publicized piece of the DGA combines saturated fat and added sugars. In addition to no more than 10% of each, the new DGAs state no more than 15% of any combination of the two.

The 2020-25 DGAs limit saturated fat and added sugar each to 10% of calories; however, both are combined at 15% of daily calories.

This detail could impact the way schools, daycares and other institutional feeding settings manage the calorie levels of both below that 10% threshold to comply with USDA oversight of the combined 15%.

These two categories could not be more different. Saturated fat provides flavor plus nutritional function as part of nutrient-dense foods, whereas added sugar provides zero nutritional function, only flavor. 

USDA and HHS fail

During the DGA webcast announcement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said: “The new Dietary Guidelines are focused on nutrient dense foods and are based on a robust body of nutritional scientific evidence to make every bite count.”

However, Perdue failed to acknowledge any role for the robust scientific evidence that was completely excluded from consideration in the process, nor did he acknowledge the stacked-against-fat formation of the DGA Committee, especially the subcommittee handling the 2020 dietary fats questions.

Perdue talked about how the guidelines are there to help Americans make healthy choices. He repeatedly used the term “nutrient dense foods” to describe dietary patterns that are notably lacking in nutrient dense foods – so much so that even the DGA Committee admitted in its final live session last summer that the approved dietary patterns leave eaters, especially children and elderly, deficient in key vitamins and minerals.

(Last summer in their final session, members of the DGA Committee said Americans can supplement with vitamin pills, and one noted there are ‘new designer foods’ coming.)

“We are so meticulous and careful about developing the DGAs because we use them to inform food and federal programs,” said Admiral Brett Giroir of HHS during the DGA announcement.

Part of the screening process used by USDA for science that will be included or excluded from Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee consideration is this curious item shown above: “Framed around relevancy to U.S. Federal  Policy”. Committee members in October 2019 asked for more information on this research screening criteria. USDA explained it to them in the public meeting, stating that this bullet item “refers to including only the research that ALIGNS with current federal policy.”

At least Admiral Giroir was honest to remind us that the DGAs are more than ‘guidelines’, the DGAs are, in fact, enforced upon many Americans — especially children, elderly, food insecure families, and military through government oversight of diets at schools, daycares, retirement villages, hospitals, nursing homes, military provisions, and government feeding programs like Women Infants and Children.

“The 2020-25 DGAs put Americans on a path of sustainable independence,” said USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps during the Dec. 29 unveiling.

Lipps was eager to share the new MyPlate website re-launch — complete with a new MyPlate ‘app’ and ‘fun quizzes and challenges.’ He said every American, over their whole lifespan, can now benefit from the DGAs. In addition, the MyPlate ‘app’ will record dietary data for the government to “see how we are doing.”

Congress fails

In the postscript comments of the 2020-25 report, USDA / HHS authorities say they intend to look again at ‘preponderance’ of evidence about stricter sugar and alcohol limits in future DGA cycles but made no mention of looking at ‘preponderance of evidence’ on loosening future saturated fat restrictions.

The ‘preponderance’ threshold was set by Congress in 1990. Then, in 2015, Congress took several steps to beef up the scientific review process for 2020.

During an October 2015 hearing, members of Congress cited CDC data showing the rate of obesity and diabetes in school-aged children had begun to taper down by 9% from 2006 to 2010, but from 2010 to 2014 the rates increased 16%.

2010 was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to tie the most fat-restrictive DGAs to-date more closely to the schools and other government-subsidized feeding. 

USDA, under Tom Vilsack as former President Obama’s Ag Secretary at the time promulgated the implementation rules for schools, outright prohibiting whole and 2% milk as well as 1% flavored milk for the first time — even in the a la carte offerings. These ‘Smart Snacks’ rules today govern all beverages available for purchase at schools, stating whole milk cannot be offered anywhere on school grounds from midnight before the start of the school day until 30 minutes after the end of the school day.

In the October 2015 Congressional hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle grilled then Secretaries Tom Vilsack (agriculture) and Sylvia Burwell (HHS) about the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) that is housed at USDA, asking why large important studies on saturated fat funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) were left out of the 2015-20 DGA consideration.

That 2015 hearing indicates why we are where we are in 2020 because of how each 5-year cycle is structured to only look at certain questions and to build on previous DGA Committee work. This structure automatically excludes some of the best and most current research. On saturated fat in 2020, the DGA Committee only considered new saturated fat evidence on children (of which very little exists) or what met previous cycle parameters.

This, despite Congress appropriating $1 million in tax dollars in 2016 to fund a review of the DGA process by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. That review was particularly harsh in its findings, and the 2020-25 DGA process ignored the Academy’s recommendations.

Opinion, not fact

During the 2015 Congressional hearing, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked why 70% of the DGA process did not use studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The (DGA) process starts with a series of questions that are formulated and then information is accumulated, and it goes through a process of evaluation,” Vilsack replied.

Answering a charge by then Congressman Dan Benishek, a physician from Michigan who was concerned about the 52% of Americans in 2015 that were diabetic, pre-diabetic and carbohydrate intolerant in regard to the fat restrictions, Vilsack replied:

“The review process goes through a series of mechanisms to try to provide an understanding of what the best science is, what the best available science is and what the least biased science is, and it’s a series of things: the Cochrane Collaboration, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the aging for health care equality, data quality, all part of the Data Quality Act (2001 under Clinton Admin). That’s another parameter that we have to work under, Congress has given us direction under the Data Quality Act as to how this is to be managed.”

Unsatisfied with this answer, members of Congress pressed further in that 2015 hearing, stressing that fat recommendations for children have no scientific basis because all the studies included were on middle aged adults, mainly middle-aged men.

https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4932695/user-clip-excerpt-preponderance-evidence

Vilsack admitted that the DGAs are “opinion” not “scientific fact.” He explained to the members of Congress how “preponderance of evidence” works in the DGA process.

“In some circumstances, you have competing studies, which is why it’s important to understand that this is really about well-informed opinion. I wish there were scientific facts. But the reality is stuff changes. The key here is taking a look at the preponderance, the greater weight of the evidence,” said then Sec. Vilsack in 2015. “If you have one study on one side and you have 15 on another side, the evidence may be on this side with the 15 studies. That’s a challenge. That’s why we do this every five years to give an opportunity for that quality study to be further enhanced so that five years from now maybe there are 15 studies on this side and 15 studies on this side. It’s an evolving process.”

What now?

What we are seeing again in 2020 is what happens when ‘preponderance’ is affected by structures that limit what research is included to be weighed.

Stay involved and engaged. The grassroots efforts are making inroads, even though it may not appear that way.

For their part, the checkoff and commodity organizations ‘applauding’ the latest guidelines would benefit from drinking more whole milk and eating more full-fat cheese and beef to support brain function and grow a spine.

-30-

Preposterous ‘preponderance’

While left hand says it’s busy building ‘mountain’ of evidence, right hand has already moved the nutrition definition goal post

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Dec. 23, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Preponderance of the evidence. We hear that phrase over and over when it comes to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and the effort to reverse 40 years of increasingly strict rules on dietary fat affecting children in schools and daycares, the military, seniors in nursing care or retirement villages, food-insecure families relying on government feeding programs like WIC, and countless other insidious prohibitions on healthy choices when it comes to whole milk, butter, full-fat cheese, dairy products like sour cream and cream cheese as well as other animal protein foods containing fat.

But the whole concept of ‘preponderance’ is really preposterous when applying the legal definition.

Let’s review.

Last March at a DMI forum on a Chester County dairy farm, DMI chair Marilyn Hershey and executive vice president Lucas Lentsch described the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard as “building a mountain of evidence.” They said the National Dairy Council is building that mountain, but it takes time to keep pushing more evidence forward “until we have enough.”

When former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack gave the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines his stamp of approval, a Congressional hearing took the USDA and HHS secretaries to task, grilling them on science that was not considered then (nor is it now in the 2020 version of the DGAs). Remember, former Ag Sec. Vilsack promptly became the current top-paid dairy checkoff executive for four years (Jan. 2017 to present) and is now poised (again) as President-Elect Biden’s Ag Secretary pick 2021 forward.

During that 2015 congressional grilling, then Secretary Vilsack said “It’s the preponderance of the evidence that is the standard, and we know stuff is always changing so there has to be a cutoff.”

On whole milk (which he helped remove from schools in 2010), then Secretary Vilsack, when confronted in 2015 with what he called “emerging” science on saturated fat — said “the preponderance of evidence still favors the recommendation for fat-free and low-fat dairy.”

Much of the saturated fat discussion during the 2020 DGA Committee work used the 2015 DGA’s body of science, that was one of the screening criteria. The cutoff bar didn’t move.

In 2015, then Secretary Vilsack explained the ‘science’ of the DGAs this way:

“Well, the process starts with a series of questions that are formulated and then information is accumulated and it goes through a process of evaluation,” he said.

Answering a charge by then Congressman Benishek, a physician from Michigan who was concerned about the 52% of Americans who are diabetic, pre-diabetic and carbohydrate intolerant as regards the fat caps and the exclusion of science available — even in 2015 — on low carb, higher fat diets, then Sec. Vilsack stated in 2015:

“The review process goes through a series of mechanisms to try to provide an understanding of what the best science is, what the best available science is and what the least biased science is, and it’s a series of things: the Cochrane Collaboration, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the aging for health care equality, data quality, all part of the Data Quality Act (2001 under Clinton Admin). That’s another parameter that we have to work under, Congress has given us direction under the Data Quality Act as to how this is to be managed.”

On a further point of contention in 2015, Vilsack stated the following as a definition of how “preponderance” works.

Vilsack said (2015): “In some circumstances, you have competing studies, which is why it’s important to understand that this is really about well-informed opinion. I wish there were scientific facts. But the reality is stuff changes. The key here is taking a look at the preponderance. The greater weight of the evidence. If you have one study on one side and you have 15 on another side, the evidence may be on this side with the 15 studies. That’s a challenge. That’s why we do this every five years to give an opportunity for that quality study to be further enhanced so that five years from now maybe there are 15 studies on this side and 15 studies on this side. It’s an evolving process.”

During a recent dairy checkoff yearend news conference with reporters, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher answered a question about consumer health attitudes and checkoff research targets for 2021. Whole milk was never mentioned in the question, but here is Gallagher’s answer as he, too, cites the “preponderance” criteria:

Gallagher said (2020): “Our research plan (for 2021) is very robust at our centers. The primary research that we focus on is whole milk because we are, number one, the only group to be pushing the research on whole milk and taking it to the scientific community so the scientific community does more research because the Dietary Guidelines will never change until the preponderance – not the best – evidence, but the preponderance of the research is in favor of whole milk. We’re helping to move that needle to that point.”

I looked up the legal definition of this ‘preponderance of the evidence’ phrase, this standard for the DGAs as determined by Congressional statute. It is clear that DMI’s assertion of building a mountain of evidence is not needed to achieve a preponderance, according to the legal definition.

According to the law.com legal dictionary, ‘preponderance of the evidence’ is a lower burden of proof than other evidentiary burdens. It only requires a better than 50% chance that it’s true! 

In fact, the law.com definition states “Preponderance of the evidence is based on what is the more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy NOT on the amount of evidence.” An example is given where one credible witness outweighs a pile of other evidence! It’s not the amount of research, then, it is the more convincing in terms of probable truth.

The word preponderance itself means “quality or fact of being greater in number, quantity, OR importance.” Yes, importance and quality can trump quantity to achieve preponderance!

Mountain-building is a stalling tactic by the left hand of industry and government, while their combined right hand is moving the goal post. (In fact, mountain-building is futile because the USDA structure on Dietary Guidelines has not allowed new evidence to be considered on certain dietary fiction it deems as settled science. There are fancy ‘mechanisms’ that have kept credible science out of the equation in 2015 and again in 2020).

Who are the attorneys advising USDA and dairy checkoff as to the meaning of “preponderance of the evidence?” Could it be Mr. Vilsack, an attorney by trade, going from USDA Secretary to top-paid DMI executive and back again potentially as the next Ag Secretary? 

Clearly, Mr. Vilsack and his colleagues at DMI are fond of citing “preponderance” as a stalling tactic for fat flexibility in the DGAs. But contrary to Gallagher’s point during this yearend news conference, the legal definition of “preponderance of evidence,” really does mean the BEST evidence can trump the MOST evidence.

It’s not about which theory has the most evidence, but which one has the best and most convincing evidence. This definition suggests that you don’t need 15 studies on one side to match 15 studies on the other side. To add flexibility on school milk choice or to reverse the saturated fat caps set at 10% of calories, a mountain of evidence is NOT needed, and a lot of good and convincing evidence keeps getting excluded from the process anyway.

The saturated fat question and the casting aside of research feels like being forced to doggy paddle in an olympic swimming competition.

The problem is agenda and bias. Who is standing up for producers and consumers?

Ahead of the 2015 DGA cycle, scientists and investigative journalists, like Nina Teicholz, exposed the weak scientific basis for Dr. Ancel Keys’ diet-heart hypothesis that these DGAs have been built on for over 40 years. Not to mention the many studies back then that were buried, once Keys became the dietary darling, and not to mention all of the newer studies that show saturated fat is not the health demon it has been made out to be, and in fact is necessary in diets to prevent chronic diet-related illness.

Here’s a look at where nutrition science is going next.

Yes, they have moved the goal post via climate change. And yes, they are telling us that consumers are more concerned about climate change after Covid-19.

Basing DMI’s 2021 plan assertions on a Kearney report (April 2020), Gallagher said: “Covid-19 has made people more hyper-sensitive to things, like the environment. 58% of consumers are more concerned about the environment since Covid, and 50% want companies to respond to climate change with the same level of urgency as responding to the pandemic.”

When asked where consumers ranked health in that particular survey — given a recent report on CNBC business news about corporations trying to get consumer ‘buy-in’ on sustainability benchmarks and finding the only way to achieve it is to link sustainability to health.

You guessed it. Gallagher was ready with the answer.

“Sustainable nutrition is the phrase you’re going to hear going forward. You’re going to see those two things inextricably tied,” he replied during the yearend and look ahead news conference by phone.

We recall in October 2019, Gallagher telegraphed a message during the 53rd World Dairy Expo that the dairy checkoff simply accepts waiting another five years until 2025 (not the current cycle) as the year that the saturated fat caps could be reversed. The 2020 DGA committee was only just partway into the process back in Oct. 2019 with a whole year of work ahead — and already the head of dairy checkoff was being quoted in the Oct. 14, 2019 Hoard’s article broadcasting that the fat issue could likely happen by the NEXT DGA cycle (2025), not this one (2020).

Gallagher further indicated in that Oct. 2019 Hoards article that the “forest” must be “populated with more trees.” (Again this idea that preponderance is based on the amount of studies, not the importance or reliability of the studies and not acknowledging that half the trees in that so-called forest are being ignored by USDA and the DGA committee — screened out of consideration at the outset. Not one of the checkoff or ag commodity group was standing up for producers and consumers on this score at the START of the 2020 DGA cycle, nor the finish).

However, we now know that the new goal post will be entrenched by 2025: ‘Sustainable nutrition’ will be the new phrase, the new goal post, according to Gallagher’s response during the December 2020 news conference.

Make no mistake about this: As much as the sustainability overlords talk about farmers being paid to plant cover crops (most already plant cover crops after corn harvest) or to recover nutrients and methane through other practices and technologies, paying for offsets and dilution of animal foods in diets are two strategies already on deck. We heard a little of this also during the December 2020 news conference as Gallagher and DMI president Barb O’Brien talked about how their partners are getting into ‘competitors’ (fake dairy lookalikes) because when a family of four comes in to eat, one may want a new taste experience, and DMI partners have to provide that ‘new experience’ to keep from losing the entire family.

DMI is working for its corporate partners like Nestle and Starbucks, both giving the DMI Innovation Center’s Net Zero Initiative up to $10 million over multiple years to pilot sustainable technologies and practices on dairy farms.

Gallagher described the situation this way: “Health, taste, price – those things are still important, but as more and more companies are offering things that are competitive, what we’re seeing people saying is ‘Well, I’m going to look at sustainability as a difference maker in who I purchase from and what I purchase,’” he said.

“The days of 10 to 15 years ago — where things like sustainability were believed to be made up by retailers for marketing — are over,” Gallagher added.

“Everyone gets it. We are past that. The beautiful part is the U.S. dairy industry has the best sustainability story in the world to tell, and we’re telling it,” he said.

As promised, a follow up email provided more details on Gallagher’s whole milk research assertion, stating: “Dairy farmers have been funding research led by National Dairy Council on the role of whole milk dairy foods and wellness for over a decade. In fact, around 70 studies have been published, adding to the growing body of evidence indicating that consuming dairy foods, regardless of fat content, as part of healthy eating patterns is not linked with risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes. The paradigm shift to more fat flexibility in the dairy group is already happening in the real world as demonstrated through the many actions of consumers and thought leaders.”

Three research items were specifically mentioned in the email — all published within the past 6 to 24 months:

1) A Science Brief: Whole and reduced-fat dairy foods and cardiovascular disease. Upon following the link published January 17, 2019, we find it begins as a regurgitation of 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines with all references to dairy qualified as ‘low-fat and fat-free’, but then goes on to discuss: “Emerging research also indicates that saturated fat intake on its own may be a poor metric for identifying healthy foods or diets.” A downloadable PDF summarizes this “emerging” research on dairy fat at: Science Brief: Whole and Reduced-Fat Dairy Foods and CVD | U.S. Dairy

2) Posted in Sept. 2019 is this resource where National Dairy Council’s Dr. Greg Miller talks about “landmark shifts” and states that, “As the research continues to grow, a preponderance of evidence (exists linking milk, cheese and yogurt, regardless of fat level, with lower risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This one is found at: Ask Dr. Dairy: Can Whole Milk-Based Dairy Foods Be Part of Healthy Eating Patterns? | U.S. Dairy

3) The third item posted June 2020 in connection with DMI’s Dietary Guidelines comment talks about dairy consumption lowering risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and cites a study that, “indicates there may be room for fat flexibility in peoples’ dairy group choices to include dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt – at a variety of fat levels – as part of healthy eating patterns in the U.S. and worldwide.”

We can see the tight rope being walked, hinging everything on this idea of slowly building a mountain of evidence as though this is the definition of what is needed to fulfill the “preponderance” standard. But as we know from the legal definition, the amount of evidence is not what’s important, but rather what is credible and convincing. The available evidence is already preponderant. Whole milk, at 41% of market share, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two years, and is now the largest selling product in the milk category because consumers are convinced. In the past two years, they have moved toward choosing health instead of allowing the government to choose for them — at least when they CAN choose.

Thinking on the many topics that were part of the fairy checkoff yearend news conference, some clear themes take us into the new year in terms of the 2021 dairy checkoff plans.

Gallagher, O’Brien and Hershey talked about “moving milk” differently because of Covid, of working in Emergency Action Teams to unify the supply chain with these top priorities in mind: 

1) Feeding food insecure people, 

2) Responding to climate change

3) Developing a deeper and closer relationship with Amazon into e-commerce and milk portability, and 

4) Developing tools and promotions for corporate partners.

On the latter, Gallagher was proud to give the example of DMI’s funding for Domino’s “contactless delivery” in Japan during the early days of Covid. He said this partner (named as Leprino, DFA and Domino’s) would not have been in a position to move so much pizza cheese when the pandemic hit the U.S. had it not been for DMI’s funding of that contactless delivery innovation first in Japan and then used here.

(Contactless delivery is used by almost every restaurant doing takeout today in the Covid era. It simply means ordering and paying online, texting when arriving, and having your food placed in your car. Not rocket science.)

Since 2008, DMI and USDA — through Vilsack-era Memorandums of Understanding — have a hand-in-glove relationship on GENYOUth and Sustainability. DMI works for its partners and has adopted a role for itself as global supply-chain integrator — the prime mover of milk.

Increasingly, there is the sense that the dairy checkoff bus has morphed into a ride for its key partners, while rank-and-file producers keep paying the fare, just hoping for a lift.

Look for more yearend checkoff review in a future edition of Farmshine.

Grassroots dairy meet with Rep. Thompson, a champion for Ag; Dietary Guidelines, whole milk in schools top the agenda

Congressman G.T. Thompson (center) is flanked on left by Dale Hoffman of Potter County and Sherry Bunting of Lancaster County and on his right by Bernie Morrissey of Berks County, Krista Byler of Crawford County and Nelson Troutman of Berks County. The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort met with Rep. Thompson this week on dairy issues.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 30, 2020

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — From the Dietary Guidelines and whole milk choice in schools to dairy checkoff and milk pricing formula concerns, five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort from across northwestern, northern tier and southeast Pennsylvania met with U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-15th) in Bellefonte, Pa. this week to talk about dairy.

Rep. Thompson helped lead the writing of a letter signed by 53 members of the U.S. House, including Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking for a delay on the decision about final Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) for 2020-25 until all of the science on saturated fat is considered.

Despite the bipartisan letter, Thompson indicated that USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) will move ahead to finalize the guidelines by the end of the year.

Thompson shared his thoughts about the disconnect between the legislative branch and a bureaucratically appointed DGA Committee in formulating the DGAs which have so much impact on children and Pennsylvania’s rural economy.

With the election next week in the balance, Thompson said he is looking at introducing language that would give the legislative branch some role in advise and consent with regard to the DGAs. He also praised his colleagues from Pennsylvania as many have cosponsored the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and the Give Milk Act. These bills would allow whole milk as an option at school and in the WIC program.

Under the current House leadership, the bill on school milk is not moving as it has not been taken up by the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.

“As you know, our office made recommendations for members of the DGA Committee, but that didn’t happen,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to believe that the modern-day science is being ignored on this issue of whole milk. We need checks and balances, not only to serve the needs of children in school, to give them this choice, but also because of the damage these rules do to our rural economy.”

It goes without saying that if the Republicans are able to gain a majority in the House, there would be a better pathway to moving on some of these issues surrounding the way whole milk (and even 2% milk for that matter) are banned from school choices while other less nutritional beverages are offered unchecked. With Democrats in the majority for the past three years, there has been no movement on the bills.

Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee member Krista Byler of Spartansburg, Crawford County, reported to the Congressman that while the beverages offered ala carte at school are calorie controlled per serving, there are no limits on how many of these beverages a student can purchase. At the middle and high school level, sports drinks, diet tea coolers, diet soda, and energy drinks are all allowed.

“But students can’t purchase even one serving of whole milk,” she said. “They simply aren’t allowed.”

“We need to get back to where milk is not tied to the school meal calculation and let it stand alone, and give students the choice,” said Thompson.

Byler serves as head chef and foodservice director for Union City School District, and her husband Gabe operates a 125-cow dairy farm with his father and brother, along with beef cattle and grain crops.

She explained that schools are afraid to move outside of the USDA edicts based on the Dietary Guidelines because of financial repercussions, and it’s difficult to get others to see the issue because so many people are generally unaware that children are limited to only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk options at school.

Five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee from around the state talked about dairy issues with Congressman Thomspon, especially the Dietary Guidelines and getting whole milk choice in schools.

The group discussed ideas for how to obtain waivers from USDA to do a statewide trial where schools could simply offer all fat levels of milk and collect the data. One such trial, done quietly in Pennsylvania during the 2019-20 school year, revealed that when students at the middle and high school level were given the choice, they chose whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat. At the same time total milk consumption rose by 65%, and the volume of milk discarded daily by students declined by 95%.

“That’s huge,” said Byler, a constituent of the Congressman. “We don’t need to reinvent a new ‘kids milk,’ we already have one that students will choose if given the opportunity.”

Thompson agreed, stating that, “Now is the time to look at something like this because what have families been turning to in this pandemic? Whole milk,” he said.

This is supported by the most recent USDA data through June showing that both whole milk and 2% milk sales made big gains in June as supply chains worked through the early Covid issues – pushing total fluid milk sales up 2.2% over year ago year-to-date January through June with whole and 2% unflavored white milk together accounting for more than 70% of all fluid milk sales categories, and whole milk alone being the largest selling category.

“Whole milk is what families are seeking when the choice is up to them,” said Thompson, indicating that while consumers are seeing the science on whole milk, the DGA committee is not.

“All of the doctors interviewed on news programs during this pandemic are talking about Vitamin D as boosting the immune system,” said Bernie Morrissey of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee.

Thompson observed that with Vitamin D and other nutrients being fat soluble, the DGAs are missing the boat.

Morrissey and Troutman are working with businesses and organizations buying and distributing “Vote Whole Milk School Lunch Choice, Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com” yard signs that are proliferating across the countryside. A link at the 97 Milk website lets citizens know how to get involved, and a second link provides information to get involved in delaying the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines until all the science is considered on saturated fat.

Concerns about the transparency and accountability of the dairy checkoff program were also discussed, and Thompson was receptive to looking at ways to turn this around.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee suggested ending the influence of importers by ending the import checkoff of 7.5 cents per hundredweight equivalent. This seemed like a good idea when it was implemented in 2007, but in retrospect has set the globalization direction of the national dairy checkoff’s unified marketing plan and ended the practice of promoting Real Seal, made in the U.S. products.

The committee was also looking at the promotion order asking the Secretary of Agriculture, who can amend the order at any time, or to work legislatively to clarify producer rights under the law in where their ‘local’ dime portion of the checkoff is assigned for education and promotion.

Nelson Troutman, a dairy farmer in Richland, Berks County, who started the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free ‘baleboards’ noted that the corn and soybean growers have periodic review of their checkoff programs, and asked if there is a way for dairy farmers paying the mandatory checkoff to have more say on whether it should continue, or more transparency to see all of the expenditures and the plans submitted by DMI to USDA.

The Committee also suggested evaluating the way the boards are formed and even noted that the language of the order suggests the Secretary can call for a referendum even without a petition by 10% of the producers and importers. 

They noted that fresh fluid milk and other fresh dairy products are a critical market for Pennsylvania producers, but the emphasis of the industry appears to be moving in a different direction. Education, promotion and research are important, but the current direction of the national drivers is in question.  

Dale Hoffman of Hoffman Farms, Shinglehouse, Potter County and Troutman both shared the economic conditions in milk pricing and marketing of milk, especially the extreme difference between high protein value and CME cheese markets since June compared with what dairy farmers in the Northeast are actually seeing in their milk checks as negative PPDs subtract the value of their milk components.

In fact, the official Dairy Margin coverage margin for Pennsylvania is running $1 to $3 behind the U.S. average for June through September, when normally Pennsylvania runs with the U.S. average or 20 to 50 cents above it. The divergence makes it hard for producers to use risk management tools and have them function as intended.

Hoffman noted that producers have lost their ability to market their milk competitively in the region – especially in the north and west of the state — and their voice in how milk is priced is lacking. He observed that even Farm Bureau is recognizing this issue with some new recommendations.

Thompson welcomed the idea for a national hearing on milk pricing, especially as the next Farm Bill is not far off, and these issues need to be on the table early.

But first, there’s an election to get past. It is hoped that after November 3, these issues can be looked at. This has certainly been a difficult year on many fronts for all Americans, and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee was grateful to speak with the Congressman about their concerns.

Dale and Carol Hoffman of Hoffman Farms took “Vote Whole Milk” yard signs home to Potter County.

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Better late than never: Dairy industry makes last-minute pitch for whole fat dairy, but….

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid. A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children,” said Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research for National Dairy Council in his oral comment during Tuesday’s webcast hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Photo is a webcast screenshot

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 14, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The highlight of this week’s webcast oral public comment hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was the last-minute pitch for whole milk by the National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association.

All three pointed to the benefits of dairy – regardless of fat percentage – and cited positive research about milkfat. However, they stopped short of asking for a relaxation on saturated fat limits, seeking instead for USDA to “fit” one serving of whole fat dairy into daily guidelines for healthy eating patterns, saying dairy fat is “complex” and “unique.”

Meanwhile, other organizations as well as private citizens asked for a review of the evidence on saturated fats, seeking relaxation of those limits to include more animal foods in the government’s recommended healthy eating patterns.

Interestingly, ADA Northeast was the very first of nearly 80 commenters accepted onto the public hearing style agenda but made no mention of whole milk or full-fat dairy. In fact, ADA Northeast’s oral comment did not mention anything about the Guidelines. Instead, their comment set the stage for future dairy products by focusing exclusively on food insecurity and how fresh milk and dairy products present nutrition-access issues due to refrigeration and transportation.

At the outset of the five-hour webcast, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps, said the DGA Committee’s Scientific Report is the first step in developing the official Guidelines. His department “co-develops” the Guidelines with the Committee and with Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention.

Lipps described their work as being focused on ending both hunger and obesity through guidelines administered via programs like WIC, SNAP and school lunches.

He thanked the DGA Committee for their “16 months of robust, rigorous and thorough review of the science,” and he noted the public comments numbered over 62,000 throughout those 16 months — a 6000% increase compared with the 970 comments received in the 2015-20 DGA cycle.

When the DGA Scientific Report was published July 15 online, there were 10,000 downloads of the document within the first four hours. The final public comment period underway until August 13 already has thousands of comments in this final phase, according to Lipps, who said public participation was “a key part of the process,” with “increased transparency and new steps for public involvement from the beginning.”

“The Dietary Guidelines are the cornerstone of all federal nutrition policy, including WIC, school lunch and breakfast, SNAP and our food distribution programs,” said Lipps. “We take our work on these Guidelines very seriously.”

A new communications page will be developed for this next and final phase of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process as USDA and HHS pick up the reins.

Also offering eye-opening comments from USDA was Dr. Scott Hutchinson, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education and Economics. This mission area of USDA is comprised of the Ag Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Ag Statistics Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

He mentioned the current pandemic exposing the urgency of improving the nutrition of Americans because obesity and diabetes are co-morbidities with Coronavirus.  

Hutchinson referenced a recent USDA “core component food and nutrition report” that focuses on reducing obesity and diabetes.

He said USDA research is moving toward a “personalized approach to nutrition from a genetic perspective.”

This comment confirms the direction of the federal government through USDA, FDA and HHS in the ‘designer’ or ‘digital’ food frontier, and he said the most important work will be how to “translate” Dietary Guidelines to the public.

“We as humans have the unique ability to choose our dietary path based on our values,” said Hutchinson. “These Guidelines are important so we can make sure all Americans have the opportunity to choose a dietary path with knowledge.”

During the comments presented by 78 members of the public, most representing organizations, the battle lines were clearly drawn between those wanting to reduce consumption of protein, fat and animal foods and those wanting to see healthy eating patterns that include more of the science on dietary animal fat and protein.

Several presenters noted simply that the Guidelines process is not up to par as the number of Americans with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, has grown to a substantial majority since the 1980s when the DGA process began.

Representing checkoff-funded National Dairy Council was scientific Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research. He thanked the Committee for continuing to recommend the consumption of dairy foods at all life stages, for the nutrients of concern they deliver. But he also observed that the Report mentions how limits on fat could depend on the fatty acid profile of the food.

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid,” he said. “A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children.”

Specifically, Torres-Gonzalez, representing National Dairy Council, asked for Guidelines that allow one daily serving of whole fat dairy (as part of the 3-a-day dairy), stating that this can still fit within the DGA Committee’s calories and saturated fat limits.

As a scientist, he said, “emerging evidence indicates that consuming whole dairy fat in a healthy eating pattern is not negatively linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes or weight gain.”

In fact, the research shows beneficial associations for dairy fat in managing or preventing chronic health conditions, he said.

Torres-Gonzalez explained that dairy fat is the most complex fat occurring in a food, and that this complexity might help explain the neutral to beneficial findings regarding milk fat. He confirmed that NDC’s written comment showcases the body of research on this topic.

“Allowing the option to offer both whole and reduced-fat dairy foods in healthy eating patterns would give Americans more chance to meet the nutrient recommendations, which most Americans are not going to meet. The health effect can rely on absorption,” he said. “Dairy foods – regardless of fat levels – are an important source of nutrients in the American diet, and whole fat (3.25%) and reduced-fat (2%) milk can fit within the calorie package of a healthy eating pattern.”

For its part, dairy checkoff-funded American Dairy Association Northeast focused their comments completely on food insecurity and accessibility.

LaChell Miller, nutrition specialist for ADA Northeast, kicked things off by highlighting the dairy checkoff’s 2012 partnership with Feeding America, and the refrigeration, distribution and transportation challenges fresh dairy foods pose for hunger relief organizations.

While offering no comments on the nutritional role of dairy, or the benefits of whole milk in a healthy eating pattern, Miller’s entire statement on behalf of ADA Northeast was about the concern that Dietary Guidelines are often not achievable for all Americans because fresh milk and dairy are hard to distribute.

“Keep food access in mind as you develop these guidelines for 2020-25,” she said.

Representing the nation’s milk cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applauded the DGA Committee for maintaining low-fat and non-fat dairy in meal patterns and maintaining dairy as an essential food group. NMPF’s comment also noted that, “The Committee fell short in recognizing the newer science on the matrix of fat in dairy foods. NMPF urged the USDA to review the scientific literature, and just last week, pushed out an online method for using their talking points to comment on the Dietary Guidelines docket.

National Milk joined ADA Northeast in highlighting the concern about food insecurity and access to healthy, affordable food, stating that “dairy foods are the most nutrient-rich and budget-friendly source of essential nutrition.”

While not making it onto the restricted number of “oral commenters” permitted on the Aug. 11 USDA / HHS hearing agenda, the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC have gathered comments from hundreds of people along with the 25,000+ Whole Milk in Schools Petition signatures. They posted an 1,125-page packet to the Federal Register Docket by the August 13, 2020 deadline. These two Whole Milk 97% Fat Free education and advocacy efforts have been commenting and pushing forward the petition at every interval over the past 16 months of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee process, including sending letters to members of Congress in leadership positions as well as the Secretaries of USDA and HHS, and issuing calls to action on social media for others to do the same.

To be continued

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WHOLE Milk gets results too important to ignore!

By Sherry Bunting, Republished from Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. —  One school in Pennsylvania had the courage to just do it.

For the 2019-20 school year beginning in September, they conducted a trial that simply offered the choice of whole milk and 2% next to the required fat-free and 1% to middle and high school students daily for breakfast and lunch. They did not promote the trial or call attention to it, just waited to see how students would react and what their responses would be.

The results are too important to ignore!

Within a short time of expanding the milk choices last September, students were choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat milk.

In January, four months into the trial, they found that allowing students to choose from all varieties of milk fat levels increased overall milk consumption by 65% and reduced milk waste by 95%.

Just before schools closed in March due to the pandemic, students were surveyed to learn what they had to say about their milk consumption behavior. Here’s a sampling: 60% said they had thrown away milk in the past before the trial, but only 31% said they had thrown away milk AFTER the whole milk trial.

Only half the students said they were aware of the restrictions on what type of milk could be offered at school.

Incredibly, the percentage of teens at this school who said they were choosing milk at breakfast before the trial was 67%, after expanding milk choices to include whole milk, 80% were choosing milk at breakfast.

All of this data and more in just seven months at a middle school and high school in Pennsylvania. We are withholding the name of the district and its foodservice director to shield their identity from potential backlash due to the USDA rules on fat content of purchased ala-carte “competing” beverages.

The foodservice director who set up the trial, with the support of the school board, states that students have now tasted the difference. Now that the school is using the intermediate unit as the vendor for packaged pickup meals and can only make 1% milk available, the kids are asking: “Where’s the Whole milk?”

“I am 100% convinced that most parents do not know about all that is going on with the school meals programs,” the Pennsylvania school foodservice director said. She is letting them know about the Dietary Guidelines and school nutrition rules so they can become aware and perhaps be led to be involved.

The official public comment period on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report has ended. USDA and HHS are using the DGA Report to finalize the next five years of Dietary Guidelines.

To bring the choice of whole milk back to schools, contact your representatives in Congress to cosponsor House Bill 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids and Senate Bill 1810 Milk in Lunches for Kids. Also, contact school boards and other governmental and non governmental organizations and ask them to consider adopting resolutions in support of this choice.

Learn more about how to take action at this link. A sample board resolution is on the second page. Schools that adopt resolutions should email 97wholemilk@gmail.com to be added to the list and also let their Congressional delegations in Washington know they support HR 832 and S. 1810. https://www.97milk.com/wp-content/uploads/TakeAction_092820.pdf

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