Comment period for milk, dairy identity ends 8/27. Part 2 of 7/26 hearing right here

iStock-544807136.jpgBy Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, August 17, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There are 10 days remaining for public comment on FDA standards of identity for milk and nearly 80 other dairy products, along with the other aspects at stake as FDA launched its Nutrition Innovation Strategy to determine – and stamp – healthy choices for consumers while taking steps to “modernize” standards of identity to “achieve nutritional goals.”

The daylong FDA hearing on July 26 was one of several relating to these issues on the FDA docket, and as previously reported in Farmshine, dairy has taken center stage for several reasons.

First, Scott Gottlieb, head of the FDA, responded to calls for FDA to take a closer look at the dairy industry standards of identity, especially for milk. He opened the hearing saying that the agency must first determine “how consumers understand and use the term ‘milk’ to know if the inherent differences between these products is well understood by consumers so we can understand how consumers are being misled.”

The public comments being received by FDA through August 27, are the first step in its multi-faceted approach.

Individual comments on any of these converging standards of identity issues and the Nutrition Innovation Strategy can be sent to FDA prior to the Aug. 27, 2018 deadline at the docket portal here.

Or, send to: Dockets Management Staff (HFA–305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20857. 

The second aspect of this brief comment period is to discuss the standards of identity more broadly.

“We want to hear about changes in science to review and update,” said Gottlieb. “We are hearing the standards of identity can cause the food industry to avoid reformulations that would reduce fat and calories. We want to gather this input and encourage out-of-the-box thinking with the bottom line helping consumers to identify healthier options.”

We covered some of the testimony at FDA’s July 26 listening session in Part One in Farmshine, Aug. 10, 2018.

Here, in Part Two, published in Farmshine August 17, 2018, are more of the elements from that hearing that are so important to know and understand…

Of particular interest on dairy product standards of identity were the hearing comments by Cary Frye, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). She commended Commissioner Gottlieb for undertaking the Nutrition Innovation Strategy “to improve nutrition and health.”

While absolutely silent on enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, despite representing the nation’s milk and dairy food processors, Frye said, “the key area we are working on is to modernize the standards of identity for dairy products, which make up more than one-third of the 280 standards of identity currently on the FDA books.”

She said these standards “are outdated and stand in the way of innovations and novel processes. Current systems are not working and definitely need to be reformed.”

Frye noted that the cheese standards have been unchanged while ultrafiltered milk processes have been around for 20 years. “Clearly a new approach is needed for processes like this to be used to create new and healthful products.”

She said “processing milk by filtration to concentrate proteins and remove lactose is embraced around the world, but these new processes are not permitted in our dairy products with the current standards.”

Frye did, however, thank the FDA for what she described as FDA’s “recent guidance allowing ultrafiltered milk as an ingredient for cheeses.”

“But the agency needs to go further and make dairy a top priority for modernized standards of identity,” said Frye on behalf of IDFA. “We must incentify innovation. We can’t make these investments if we must petition for standards that take decades to complete.”

Along with standards, FDA wants to modernize label claims as a key element of the nutrition innovation strategy, to give consumers “quick signals” with important information on the nutritional benefits of food choices.

A key question FDA is looking at is: What claims best stimulate innovation to create products that are better choices?

Speakers at the hearing identified food trends, saying consumers are committed to a more balanced approach between nutrition and function, but also the idea of food, that it is part of how they experience life, with taste becoming more important to consumers than nutritional profile as they move away from “lowfat” foods.

(Unfortunately, this FDA strategy has not yet acknowledged there are health-related and nutritional reasons for consumers to move away from “lowfat” dogma of the past 30 to 40 years. My comment to the FDA docket will include sending by mail, a copy of The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz, who will join me in sending copies of this book to FDA?)

As in many of these discussions, the generational shifts in food trends and choices are the most noticeable. Hearing presenters noted that millennials are pursuing “clean eating and natural foods” as more important than a nutrition-based label.

With that in mind, upholding and enforcing the current standards of identity for milk and dairy products becomes important since it is simple compared with concocted imitation formulations with long lists of ingredients unable to provide all of the nutrition milk has – naturally.

Hearing presenters also acknowledged that the declines in consumption of meat and dairy over the past 40 years have just begun to “shift back the other way.” People are returning to the fresh perimeter of the grocery store.

(Again, no mystery here, FDA needs to read the book: The Big Fat Surprise)

With millennial food choices driven by a so-called “return to purity,” my thoughts as I listened to the July 26 FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy hearing is this: Will FDA move incrementally toward giving consumers what they want, while slipping into that desired food the science and innovation the FDA and food industry believe consumers need… in order to “get” the FDA ‘healthy choice’ stamp – however that is ultimately defined in this multi-year strategy and however it is ultimately designed for packaging?

These are big things to watch and participate in.

This is not to say that some new standards aren’t needed. Rob Post for Chobani, testified that they produce a nutrient dense, healthy, strained Greek yogurt, but because no standard of identity exists for this type of yogurt, they are challenged to have standardized nutrition profiles “that account for the 52% protein content in Greek yogurt” when used in institutional feeding programs like the National School Lunch Program.

“Today’s consumers have evolving demands and a new set of food values,” said Post. “Health is important, but so are other values and drivers.”

Others noted that the current standards of identity “do not allow lower salt content for cheese.”

This could be an issue when it comes to nutritional cheese getting a ‘healthy choice’ FDA stamp in the future, if such stamps are based on what are now questionable low-salt directives for healthy eating.

“Standards are important because they assure the consistency of the product, its authenticity and nutrition,” said Post.

Laura MacCleery, Policy Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest testified that, “Americans overconsume saturated fat.” They are among the contingent of wanting to work on labeling to steer consumers away from saturated fat.

Meanwhile, the American Heart Association testified to FDA that they want the standards of identity “modernized to improve the nutritional value of food by reducing both sodium and saturated fat.”

On the flipside, members of the dairy processing industry said they are looking for standards to be modernized to abolish the milk fat minimums and allow lower sodium on natural cheeses that currently have rigid standards of identity. Dairy processors testified that this is necessary to conform to the nutritional focal points of this discussion – salt and fat – that are still based on current dietary guidelines.

Will FDA grant these wishes and will we see lowfat and low salt cheeses introduced as “the real thing” because the standard has changed based on a dietary guideline many in the scientific community are already saying is a flawed guideline?

You can see the intertwined dilemma this FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy could spawn.

Taste is king, according to the food processors speaking about low salt claims. They said they go ahead and formulate low salt varieties, they just are not always advertising it on the packaging space.

Will modernization of standards of identity low-salt and low-fat our food – our cheese for example — without our knowing it or being able to choose? Do we care if that happens as long as it tastes good? And how is that happening? With milk protein concentrates, given FDA’s already loosened grip on allowable ingredients in cheese standards of identity?

A representative for Great Lakes Cheese spoke up to say that, “Consumer transparency around label claims and that presents a huge consumer perception issue. We are interested in experimenting to reduce sodium in cheeses, but without having to put a flag saying so on our product.”

Without a change in standards, a low salt or low fat cheese would have to be labeled that way. If the fat and salt standards are abolished, no ‘flag’ is needed and consumers won’t know the fat or salt is lowered – it just may taste different.

One question asked was “If our goal is to impact consumer behavior, how do we empower consumers to look for better choices by looking to the nutrition facts instead of making changes to do it for them (with modernized standards and healthy-choice stamps)?”

Part of this process is FDA’s work to “update” the definition of “healthy” as a “voluntary” claim. What kind of symbol should be used, should it be by food group.

“What’s healthy and not healthy shifts over time, and it’s not the same for everyone. If you’re putting a stamp on something today, you may have to take it off at some time down the road,” said one hearing participant.

Dieticians were on the side of “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to using FDA-sanctioned ‘healthy’ stamps or symbols on food labels. They preferred to see a focus on foods and food patterns more than specific nutrients.

In fact, one anonymous dietician has already commented on the public document online to say they have spent 30 years with government food programs and this is his or her observation over those 30 years: “We have done a great disservice to the public in trying to get people to eat 6 to 12 servings of carbohydrates per day while subsisting on a lowfat diet.”

A participant from the Edge dairy farmer cooperative of 800 members in the Midwest (formerly Dairy Business Association Cooperative based in Wisconsin) said that, “Accurate labeling is the first step in FDA’s enforcement of existing standards for milk, cheese, yogurt. High nutrition and taste have come to be expected,” he said.

“Inaccurate labeling is not fair to farmers and their investment or to customers who may have been misled. We’re encouraged by FDA’s announcement and we encourage innovation in the dairy case to keep up with changing wants and needs with options for healthy products, but most people under-consume dairy products. We must have the flexibility to make what competes and to label innovative foods made with milk.”

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School milk: Time to be bold for our kids

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, May 11, 2018  

EAST EARL, Pa. — One would think there would be overwhelming support in the official dairy community for the Whole Milk Act, H.R. 5640, introduced by Rep. Tom Marino, representing Pennsylvania’s 10th legislative district.

Since the bill was introduced on the floor of the United States House of Representatives April 26, it has been given a name and assigned to Education and Workforce Committee that oversees the National School Lunch Program. While the Ag Committee is not the committee for this bill, the USDA’s part is the implementation of the rules and reimbursements of the National School Lunch Program — and its approval of five-year cycles of U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans that drive these rules.

cosponsorsMarino’s Whole Milk Act has just one cosponsor as of May 9. That would be longtime whole milk advocate Glenn (G.T.) Thompson — representing Pennsylvania’s 5th legislative district. Thompson is now noted at the bill-tracking website as an original cosponsor.

That’s a good thing, because Thompson serves on the Education and Workforce Committee that oversees the National School Lunch Program, Marino does not. Thompson also is vice chair of the House Ag Committee.

Two more cosponsors include Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York and Rep. James Comer of Kentucky. But more cosponsors are needed!

Where are the farm and dairy associations on the school milk issue? Where, indeed, is the “dairy lobby”? The folks who collect, assemble, process, market and distribute the milk produced on dairy farms? Where is National Milk Producers Federation? Where is the International Dairy Foods Association?

Back at square-one: 1%. Taking baby steps in the face of a brick wall.

Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications for National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) explains it this way: “While (NMPF is) supportive of efforts to increase milk consumption at school and having more options to help achieve that goal and we  are talking with Rep. Marino about his intentions to move the bill forward, and how he can build support for the measure…”

Wait for it, there is a ‘but’…

“At the same time, we also have to secure the progress made so far to upgrade milk options in school. That’s why we’re also working with Rep. Thompson to help pass his H.R. 4101, which codifies the decision made by Sec. Perdue to allow flavored 1% milk in the schools,” Galen stated in an email response to questions from Farmshine this week. We are still waiting on a response from IDFA.

Last fall, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue made an administrative change to the National School Lunch Program allowing schools to serve 1% flavored milk. They were already permitted to sell 1% unflavored milk.

States then implement this change by filling out waivers to show that children were drinking less milk because of the fat-free option being the only option for flavored milk in order to then switch to allowing 1% flavored milk.

Kids on a school break

While both 1% milk and whole milk have the same essential nutrients, the children don’t benefit if the nutrients are not consumed and the evidence shows the fat is actually good for adults and especially children. Let’s stand up for our children. There was never any evidence they would benefit from the old heart patient’s diet at school in the first place, and mounting evidence shows what the lowfat craze has done and is doing to them. Istock photo andresr imaging

In Pennsylvania, alone, the Pa. Department of Agriculture reported in March that over 300 schools filled out waivers to serve the choice of 1% flavored milk. Many did not implement the change due to having school milk contracts already set for the current school year. Some have recently added the 1% flavored milk.

For the next school year, the waivers are not necessary. Schools may simply make the choice to include the choice of 1% flavored milk in their contract bids for next school year.

Without a change in the law, however, Sec. Perdue’s administrative change could revert to fat-free in the future, says Galen.

He indicated that the USDA action to allow 1% flavored milk “as welcome as it is, is merely an administrative decision, and could be rolled back in the future by a different administration, which is why it needs a law to fully implement.”

NMPF and IDFA have been on-record publicly as supportive of Thompson’s H.R. 4101 but have not come out with any public statement on Marino’s H.R. 5640.

When asked about NMPF’s support for Marino’s H.R. 5640, Galen stated: “It’s worth noting that this will be an incremental process, given the gradual evolution of dietary science along with the snail’s pace of Congress.”

Thompson’s bill, H.R. 4101, with 38 cosponsors to-date, was introduced in the House on October 24, 2017 and referred to the Education and Workforce Committee, on which Thompson serves.

Marino’s bill, H.R. 5640, with just one cosponsor, Thompson, was introduced in the House on April 26, 2018 and referred to the Education and Workforce Committee, on which Marino does not serve, but cosponsor Thompson does.

Neither bill has been taken up by the Committee.

“Making progress toward allowing higher fat content milks in schools is a function of both whether there is bipartisan support on the committees in the House and Senate that oversee the issue, and also whether there is support in the nutrition community, without whose positive engagement we will not be able make any headway on the issue,” notes Galen for NMPF.

He adds that the composition of the Education and Workforce committee is not the same as the Agriculture committee.

“So, we are pushing to make progress on the issue, but it’s a bigger chore than just asking the dairy sector to pitch in — consumer and health groups have to be part of the coalition. We are sharing with them the emerging science on dairy fat, but that’s an evolutionary process,” notes Galen. “You can’t just send them Nina Teicholz’s book and expect two generations of conventional wisdom about food, wellness and obesity to suddenly change.”

Teicholz spoke during the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit last February about the nutrition aristocracy and her 10 years of investigation as a science journalist and former vegetarian.

Her International and New York Times Best Seller “The Big Fat Surprise” has been around since before the last Dietary Guidelines cycle was begun and later approved by then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Her book exposed the tactics and lack of evidence that brought dietary guidelines to the current fat caps that are still in place today — despite proof and trends both showing the flawed nature of these guidelines and the harm to children for which there was never any evidence in the first place suggesting caps on saturated fat would be beneficial in any way.

Rise+in+US+Overwight+Obsetity+Coincides+with+DGA

Nutrition Coalition image

To the contrary, the evidence is overwhelming that these guidelines actually harm children, which is the reason the long title for Rep. Marino’s Whole Milk Act (H.R. 5640) spells it out like this: The Wholesome Healthy Original Lactic Excellence Making Intelligent Literate Kids Act.

Looking at the science and the trends, this title for the bill on whole milk, says it all.

Marino’s H.R. 5640 specifically targets the unflavored milk options allowed in school. Thompson’s H.R. 4101 “codifies” the step taken by Sec. Perdue last fall on 1% flavored milk.

Both bills can be vigorously supported. They are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps the Education and Workforce Committee can combine them?

The Nutrition Coalition, founded by Teicholz, — with support from many nutrition, health and medical advocates — brings together the evidence and seeks to challenge the “conventional wisdom” foisted upon the public by the national and international nutrition aristocracy that controls the food supply today.

Leading cardiologists are up to date on their recommendations for middle-aged men even though the American Heart Association is dragging its feet. (I know this from personal experience as well).

PERSONAL-PHOTO-FOR-SCHOOL-MILK (1).jpg

If a cardiac patient in his mid-50s — such as my husband just 14 months ago — can be offered, not just served, a carton of whole milk right out of the cath lab at the esteemed Lancaster General Heart and Vascular Institute, then why can’t our children be served the best nutritional option of whole milk in our schools? I am grateful for my in-shape-and-stress-test-passing husband’s recovery from five stents that had the medical staff in disbelief last year. The point here is that leading cardiologists, like his, recognize the role of sugar in heart disease and the fact that as we remove saturated fats from our diets, our bodies replace this with additional calories from carbohydrates. The science shows no harmful impact — and in fact positive effects on hearth health and other health concerns — in consuming even 18% of calories from saturated fat. That’s nearly double the “conventional wisdom” that controls our food supply today. Photo selfie by Sherry Bunting February 2017.

If leading cardiologists are focusing on dietary sugars and the abundance of carbs in the diet — letting go of flawed guidelines on saturated fat — why is there so much dragging of feet where our children are concerned? Why, indeed, given the fact that as Teicholz points out, there was never any evidence — in the first place — that children would benefit from caps on saturated fats.

Still the U.S. government pushed the lowfat agenda and the dairy industry, in effect, acquiesced, only in the past two years supporting “incremental” change.

“Right now, we don’t yet even have a permanent law permitting 1% flavored milk in schools, so we need to start with that and then move from there,” Galen insists.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO), dubbed as the supreme agency in terms of being a nutrition aristocracy for status quo – no matter what the science says – weighed in with a statement this week upholding the over 30 years of flawed dietary guidelines.

WHO persists in its recommendation that adults – and children — should consume a maximum of 10% of their daily calories in the form of saturated fat such as meat and butter and 1% from trans fats, to maintain a healthy heart.

Dr Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development said in a statement this week: “Dietary saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids are of particular concern because high levels of intake are correlated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.”

This regurgitation of proven flawed “conventional wisdom” disregards randomized controlled studies to the contrary at double these levels of dietary fat.

And even though it disregards the evidence, even the WHO’s weigh-in this week does not preclude whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef from the school diet. The problem is that not all calories have the same metabolic effect and the calorie threshold of the school lunch program was lowered by the Obama administration, along with the current requirements that less than 9% of those calories can come from saturated fats. This is a further level to the problem.

Last month after USDA closed its unprecedented 30-day public comment period on specific topics for the 2020-25 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, nearly 6000 comments were posted by concerned citizens.

The Nutrition Coalition reports that the USDA sought this input on topics where the science has evolved, particularly on saturated fats and low-carbohydrate diets.

“The results demonstrate a widespread belief that the Guidelines need to be changed in order to reflect the best and most current science,” the Nutrition Coalition reports. “Of the 5944 comments, 1145 mention ‘saturated’ as in ‘saturated fats’, 1288 mention ‘low-carb.’”

This was an unprecedented opportunity to stand up for good science, and the public responded.

The Whole Milk Act is another opportunity to stand up for good science. Let’s respond.

Will the U.S. food and agricultural system continue to dance to the agendas of the World Health Organization? World Trade Organization? One World Order philosophy?

Will we sit back and allow two generations of flawed advice — based on absolutely zero studies on children and even refuted by actual trials when they were finally shown the light of day on adults?

Will we continue to face the brick wall of control over what is best for our children with timid and child-like baby steps? If so, it will it take two generations to right this wrong.

Meanwhile, it is our children and our farmers who will pay the price for our complacency.

There are several ways we can all help support Rep. Marino’s Whole Milk Act.

Contact your representative in the U.S. House and ask them to cosponsor and support H.R. 5640 The Whole Milk Act. If you don’t know who to call, enter your zipcode here to find out who represents you

Also, call the U.S. House of Representatives at 202-225-3121 and let them know that H.R. 5640 is important for the health and well-being of our schoolchildren.

In addition, contact members of the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Committee chairwoman. Ask them to put this bill on the committee’s agenda. Its passage must begin in this committee.

Also, write to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue or contact the USDA with your support for the letter Rep. Marino has sent in conjunction with introducing H.R. 5640 The Whole Milk Act. USDA is key to making school milk great again by making it whole again.

Finally, contact Rep. Tom Marino’s office and thank him 202-225-3731.

Follow H.R. 5640, The Whole Milk Act, at this link.

(Author’s note: Since this report was published, the Pennsylvania Association of Milk Dealers announced their official support for The Whole Milk Act)