Truth and thoughts: A tragedy the government won’t accept

As a mother and a grandmother, Sherry Bunting has followed childhood nutrition legislation and government guidelines for 25 years. She is pictured here recently with Bella, one of her five grandchildren.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Cover Commentary, April 26, 2019

I have been following and writing about the nutrition exploits of the National School Lunch Program since 1994. At that time, my children were in school, and I served as an elected director of the Eastern Lancaster County School Board.

Today, I continue the fight because I see the effects. I am a grandmother. I have been on this soapbox whether milk prices are high or low, though some say I’m just conjuring up devisive issue because of low milk prices.

My track record on this issue is 25-years-long-and-solid.

The problem started surfacing in the mid-90s when the low-fat / high-carb nutrition dogma became firmly entrenched, and big food brands were pushing low-fat versions that contained – you guessed it – more sugar and concentrated high fructose corn syrup.

The situation became progressively worse through the 2000’s as the government began tightening its vice-grip — as one foodservice director at the time put it — “forcing us to serve the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet to growing kids.”

Foodservice directors who piloted the USDA software for the nutrient standard menu planning said it would be an obesity disaster in the making. They correctly noted that when fat is removed from diets, carbs and sweetener take its place.

There are three things that give food calories for sustaining life: Fat, carbs and protein. There are two calorie-providing elements that give food its flavor: Sugar and fat.

By excessively reducing fat, the flavor of the meals and the milk is reduced, and children are pushed toward more sugar and less feelings of fullness.

By removing whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, we now have 10-year-olds with ‘hunger pangs during math class.’ Sen. Stabenow recognized this, but she doesn’t grasp why. She sees the solution as more of the same: Just find ways to get more kids enrolled to eat even less of what’s good for them.

The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act made “historic changes” alright. Bad ones. It dealt our nation’s dairy farmers and children the final blow. It limited the calories of the total meal, tightened the saturated fat limits, and required only fat-free and 1% milk or fat-free flavored milk be served along with offerings of fruit juice and water. It also increased the carb counts.

What our government leaders and USDA nutrition elite bureaucracy think is progress is actually regression. Sen. Stabenow says ‘don’t go backwards.’ But our children are already going backwards as nutrient dense foods are limited.

I find it amazing that our political leaders can sit in committee examining childhood nutrition programs costing $30 billion in reauthorization and talk about the nutritional crisis our nation is facing that affects our national security and yet claim that the 2010 Act brought “progress”, saying “don’t backtrack”.

In essence, our leaders believe the problem is not enough kids are enrolled in the programs that they have ruined!

Instead of hiring market research firms to find out how to get more participation, change the program. Apply some logic.

The School Lunch and later breakfast programs began when the military in the 1940s saw malnutrition as a national security issue among recruits. At that time, the biggest thing the school lunch program did was to make sure children received whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, real food. And yes, we ate our vegetables, they had real butter or cheese on them!

We sailed along until Dr. Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota, and his now heavily-challenged hypothesis, became the darling of the American Heart Association. By the 1980s, it was intrenched. Other rigorous science was bullied and buried.

By the 1990s, school lunch rules became more intrusive in reducing fat and increasing carbs.

By the 2000s, schools had to submit their menus for approval or run them through USDA software for percent-of-calories-from-fat analysis. School foodservice directors admitted to serving more dessert to replace the calories lost from nutrient-dense fats and proteins, but they used applesauce, more sugar and high fructose corn syrup — instead of butter and eggs — to make those cakes, cookies and brownies.

In 2010, the government limited the lunch calories, tightened the saturated fat limits, and outright forbade serving 2% or whole milk in schools.

Don’t our leaders see that we keep making a bad situation worse because we can’t admit that it’s time to backtrack?

Now our military says recruits are too obese to serve. We are facing a new national security threat. This is no joke.

When will our nation have a full airing of the science? When will we backtrack from a hypothesis disproven?

Since the 1990s — and even moreso since 2010 — our children are served increasingly less of less, and we have a USDA and a Congress that want to stay on this road and just make sure more of us travel it. In fact, while USDA representatives told Congress last week that they don’t want schools and states to have to be ‘food police’, they admitted they look at ‘competing foods’ to see that kids aren’t leaving the lunch line to eat or drink something else on campus.

Pennsylvania and other states will not allow various FFA groups to put in whole milk vending machines and manage them as a fundraiser, or they must be locked during school hours in order not to “compete” with what government is literally forcing down our children’s throats, or into the trash can.

If the federal government won’t do what’s right, then get out of the way and let our communities decide how to feed our children. Stop ruling from the ivory tower that “looks and listens” but fails to act. Change the Guidelines. Face it. Do it. Now, before it’s too late.

Child nutrition reauthorization sparked in D.C.

Military insights suggest backtracking, but disappointing answers given on school lunch and milk fat

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 26, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last time a childhood nutrition authorization was passed by Congress was in 2010: The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. A decade later, the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing last Wednesday (April 10) on perspectives in childhood nutrition. 

Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said this is the first step in the reauthorization of the $30 billion in mandatory and discretionary childhood nutrition programs he wants examined and passed this year.

The hearing panels included representatives of federal agencies, state and community food programs, and the national childhood health program.

Most of the discussion centered on ways to streamline programs, increase enrollment that has been declining since 2010, and provide more flexibility.

There were a few eye-opening highlights and some discussion related to milk.

Chairman Roberts said in his opening statement: “One size fits all does not work for all.

Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stated that, “Whether it’s a mother getting enough calcium to insure healthy bones for her baby, or making sure a 10-year-old isn’t fighting hunger pains in math class, child nutrition is about building a stronger future. It’s also important to our national security.”

Stabenow then revealed how and why the National School Lunch Program began 80 years ago, and what the concerns are today — two decades after the saturated fat limitations were introduced and a decade after the last reauthorization under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, when the screws were further tightened on milk choices and other aspects in 2009-10.

“Interestingly, the National School Lunch program was created in the 1940s because General Lewis Hershey came before Congress to explain that recruits were being rejected due to malnutrition,” said Stabenow. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

“Today, over 750 retired Generals, and other military leaders, are sounding alarm bells again, this time because young adults are too overweight to serve,” she stated. “With 14% of children as young as 2 showing signs of obesity, we have to address this issue early and everywhere.”

That said, Sen. Stabenow touted the “tremendous progress in the past 20 years in schools and daycares. It is vital to move forward, not backward,” she stated, while in her next breath saying that “obesity in adolescents continues to rise while over 12 million kids do not have enough to eat.”

She touted the need for greater enrollment in the National School Lunch Program so kids can have access to that “better” lunch, breakfast, after school snacks and even supper. She talked about a “veggie van” driving out into communities. She cited the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program as critical to first stages of life.

But when her opening statement was said-and-done, Sen. Stabenow again touted “the progress made in 2010” and said several times “we don’t want to backtrack while streamlining these programs.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

Toward the end of the session, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) brought up “the science of milk” and addressed his question specifically to Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a pediatrician who is director of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

It was not surprising that the most important question of the day got the most disappointing and predictable answer. 

After hearing Dr. Falusi present her comments about how early childhood diets are responsible for critical programming of lifelong metabolism, brain development, and educational outcomes, Sen. Casey addressed Dr. Falusi as follows:

“There’s been much discussion in Pennsylvania about the ability of schools to serve whole milk to students. What does ‘the science’ say about the appropriate levels of whole milk consumption?” the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania asked.


Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a pediatrician who is director of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Predictably, Dr. Falusi replied: “As a pediatrician, I recommend to my patients that they drink water or low-fat or fat-free milk. We know that milk has many benefits from protein and calcium and Vitamin D. We also know, though, that lower fat and lower sugar in diets are healthier for children.”

Dr. Falusi continued matter-of-factly: “What we would admonish, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that the standards for school nutrition programs — including the type of milk served — really be based on the science, and the science is that lower fat and lower sugar are what we should be advocating for children. And we do encourage the USDA to rely on the nutrition experts and to look at a number of studies for those guidelines.”

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked about students turning to competitive foods when the school lunch does not appeal or satisfy. She addressed her concern to USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps.

Lipps replied that the government seeks a balance between the school lunch and “competing foods” allowed on campus. He also noted they are “looking to see that kids are not leaving the school lunch line to buy competitive foods elsewhere on campus. But we’re not making the schools or states be the food police.”

Sen. Fischer asked: What are the foodservice professionals telling you? Are kids eating the school lunches?



Brandon Lipps, USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

Lipps replied that the “schools are very positive on the flexibilities in the final rule… It’s not a major change, just a comfort in long-term planning. Schools have to buy a long way out to plan their menus in the way that we require them to do. So they’re glad to have finality on the flexibility” (for example, they have flexibility to serve 1% flavored milk instead of only fat-free).

In response to the suggestion that the nutrition standards are “no good.” Lipps stated that, “We put in a calorie limit in 2009, and if the kids don’t eat half the food on their plate, and if they are getting half of the maximum calories that we provide them, if that’s happening, then that’s a problem.”

USDA is monitoring this, said Lipps: “As you know, the same is true, particularly with milk and the nutrients that it provides, so we are going to continue to listen and see if further flexibility is needed on that front.” 

Repeatedly, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was cited for making “historic changes” that led to “greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as encouraged by USDA.” But at the same time, panelists repeatedly said fewer eligible families and children use the programs today compared with before 2010, and that obesity and diabetes and hunger are rising in our youth.  

When asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) about school waste related to the 2010 changes, USDA Under Secretary Lipp said flexibility in the final rule on whole grains, sodium and 1% low-fat flavored milk went a long way toward changing that.

“I don’t think we have anyone telling us we need a major change in the nutrition meal pattern requirements for the school meal, but they do want flexibility,” said Lipp.

Sen. Ernst also noted the concerns about portion sizes being the same for a first-grader as an eighth-grader. “School foodservice professionals say they want the flexibility to vary it,” she said. “Right now, booster clubs are bringing in food for athletes who are not getting enough. And with mandated portions and mandated nutrition requirements, we are seeing a lot of food waste, what can USDA do?”

Lipp replied that USDA will continue to “look and listen.”

Josh Mathismeier, Director of Nutritional Services for Kansas City public schools and Mike Halligan, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Banks, based in Lexington, Kentucky, said participation would increase if they could take the food to the people instead of forcing the people to congregate to access the food.

Some states have actually hired market research firms to do focus groups with eligible families to learn how to increase their enrollment.

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‘Milk Baleboards’ are a ‘thing’, with a website!

Producers unite to send clear message to policymakers and consumers, website takes it to the next level.

Nelson Troutman (above) is a dairy farmer. He has made 20 Milk Baleboards and offers these DIY Tips with illustrations at the end of this story.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. — Nelson Troutman has been making the ‘Milk Baleboards’ since January. The Berks/Lebanon County dairy farmer came up with the idea after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board listening session in December.

“It’s very important that the bales all have the same message: ‘Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT-FREE.’ Don’t try to get funny with it. You could take the ‘local’ off and just focus on the ‘whole milk,’ but mainly to have impact, we want the bales to have the same message,” he said while painting bales in his shop during my visit last Saturday morning to the farm where he and his wife Mary live and which is now rented to a young couple for their dairy herd.

He still farms the land he has lived on his entire life, and he makes the feed for that herd and his son’s herd nearby. (In fact his daughter in law Renee wrote about whole milk recently, with a historical twist!)

Nelson has made 20 Milk Baleboards so far (check out his DIY tips at the end of this story). And he has seen new ones pop up from others following suit.

He has had 10 phone calls from fellow farmers as far away as New York, and has talked to so many more at meetings — out and about. He tells them: “Put a bale out… unless you are satisfied with your milk price.”

Did he think it would take off like it has? “No I didn’t,” he says. But he’s glad to see others joining in and hopes to see it catch on even more.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia has been doing all he can to get other agribusinesses to put them out. In addition to Morrissey Insurance having one on their property along Rte 272 north of Ephrata, the Milk Baleboards are popping up along other main routes like 23, 322, and 422, to name a few.

“Our advertising checkoff dollars just didn’t seem to be doing a very good job these past 10 years. They have been promoting fat free and low-fat 1% milk and the fat free yogurt — not much whole milk,” Nelson relates.

“After the listening session with the PMMB, some of us were talking. We thought it was time to do something different, something like letting consumers know whole milk is 97% fat free,” he said further. “We didn’t come up with a plan that day. We were thinking about a billboard, but that was far too expensive. We thought about portable signs.”

Then over the weekend after that December meeting, he looked around. “I thought to myself that I already have the perfect thing: A wrapped hay bale! So, I painted one. I set it in the pasture at our crossroad. We farmers have silos, wagons, barns and sheds we can paint signs on.”

Lots of feedback has come in, and it seemed no one knew whole milk was 97% fat free. Some said “why are we drinking 2% milk, when whole milk tastes so much better?”

Nelson observes that young and older people said they never thought about how much fat or nutrition is in milk. “It seems so sad how people are misled by our checkoff dollars, our doctors and medical people — and our federal dietary guidelines committee.”

He admits that people are easily confused. To be sure, the bales are attracting attention, leading to questions.

While it started out as a way to send a clear and unified message to consumers and especially policymakers, Nelson said the information is so surprising to people that it offers educational opportunities.

That’s why R&J Dairy Consulting invited Nelson and Bernie to a meeting of dairy farmers last Friday to see what could be done to use this teachable moment.

The group decided to purchase a website domain — 97MILK.com, and direct people there to learn more: What is whole milk? How does it compare? What is Real Milk, Local Milk?

The website can help unite these efforts, and bring additional excitement to the project. For example, at the meeting organized by R&J Consulting, their marketing manager Jackie Behr said when she asked peers what questions they have about milk, she ended up with a whole list.

“Let’s use this opportunity to educate consumers and help them make a good choice,” she said. The group decided to start out with key simple answers to frequent questions. Many businesses and people are pulling together in various ways that it is impossible to name them all here. That will come in a future Milk Baleboard update.

Jackie at R&J, with some help from others, got the website 97milk.com up and running within seven days. This includes a facebook page @97Milk, so check it all out!

Want to make a Milk Baleboard? Here are Nelson’s DIY tips:


1) Keep the message the same: Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT FREE (or now that there is a website, omit ‘Drink’ on a Round Bale and put the website 97MILK.com top or bottom.)

2) Get the right paint! Rustoleum Ultra Cover 2X paint and primer.

3) Use the small foam brushes and buy extra. This paint doesn’t wash out, so they can’t be re-used. Foam brushes can be turned for thick or thin letters.

4) Wear gloves, this paint will be with you a while if you don’t.

5) Before painting, sketch out a guide with a pen.

6) 97% is the largest and in making the percent-sign, put the circles parallel to each other and the slanted line in between to keep it straight.

7) Find the middle and that’s where the “I” in Milk goes, then build on that.

8) Letters are placed every 2.5 inches for “Local Whole,” and adjust others accordingly.

9) Spray paint onto foam brush, then apply to bale in strokes from the bottom to the top of each letter.

10) Alternate between colors (Blue/Red or Black/Red).

11) Make the letters broader and thicker for the word MILK, in all capital letters.

12) Follow your guide and use paint to even things out as you go.

13) Paint will dry faster and better, with fewer runs (in winter) if painting in sunshine or with a heater running in the shop.

14) Sit them on a pallet for better visibility on property you have along roads and set back from intersections.

Who is empowering whom? PART ONE: Dairy check-off’s GENYOUth thin on milk.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: They call it “the dairy farmers’ youth wellness program” because it has been depicted as the brainchild of the National Dairy Council… But GENYOUth — including its flagship Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) — is thin on milk and threatens to steal even more demand as future milk drinkers are steered away from nutritious whole milk products. Meanwhile, the anti-animal and environmental NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have been infiltrating new billionaire “sustainability” alliances poised to profit on the main course, while dairy farmers bow-down in hopes of crumbs. This is Part One of an investigative multi-part series.

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Depicted above is the illustration used to promote and glorify the 2018 GENYOUth Gala that was held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City on Nov. 27. The “superheroes” sponsors are listed further down on the 2018 GENYOUth Gala website. PepsiCo was the “hero” sponsor at $150,000. Champion sponsors of $100,000 each were UnitedHealthcare, Corteva Agriscience, Inmar and fairlife. So-called “defender” sponsors included Domino’s, Ecolab, Jamba Juice, Land O’Lakes, NFLPA, SAP, Leprino Foods, Schreiber, Ameritrade, RBC Capital Markets and Omnicom Group, each of which gave $50,000.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, January 11, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — How serious is the National Dairy Board about improving fluid milk sales? We see some renewed emphasis on this lately, but our most important sales — those to children in school — threaten to steal even more demand from the future as we lose future milk drinkers with the forced service of only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk in the school lunch and breakfast programs.

Recent studies show that children and teenagers in the poorest demographic of the U.S. population are leading the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. One study by University of Michigan Health System, for example, revealed that for every 1% increase in low-income status among school districts, there as a 1.17% increase in rates of overweight/obese students. Researchers used data collected from mandated screenings that began in Massachusetts schools in 2011, and the percentage of overweight/obese students was compared with the percentage of students in each district eligible for free and reduced school lunch, transitional aid or food stamps (SNAP).

The meals these students receive at school are their best two options for nutrition and satiety all day. There are few restrictions for cheap, high-carb, high-fructose-corn-syrup foods and beverages that can be purchased with SNAP cards, so what will they find at the end of the day for their hunger at home? Soda pop and Dollar Store snacks.

What role is the National Dairy Council and its GENYOUth program playing?

The GENYOUth collaboration is aimed at making “a lasting difference in the lives of children.” That sounds great, but what have been both the intended and unintended lasting consequences?

Certainly, there is a long list of dairy research projects funded by the NDC. That’s a good thing.

But where the rubber meets the road, GENYOUth and its flagship program Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) are aimed at promoting a “healthy lifestyle” that focuses on 60 minutes of physical activity daily and consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein “including low-fat and fat-free dairy.”

For nearly 10 years, the dairy checkoff has parroted the Dietary Guidelines on dairy service to children (and adults) when it comes to institutional feeding — the largest category of the food economy and the place where seeds are planted for lifelong choices based on nutrition education and flavor.

Let’s look at how GENYOUth was launched in 2010.

At the Nov. 27, 2018 gala in New York City, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that GENYOUth was the concept of Dairy Management Inc (DMI) CEO Tom Gallagher. Gallagher today serves as chairman of the GENYOUth board.

In a YouTube video of Goodell’s remarks — before handing the coveted 2018 Vanguard Award to PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey — Goodell stated that Gallagher came to him with the idea for GENYOUth 10 years ago, which was then “founded” in 2010 as a partnership between the National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL).

In fact, in its 2014 Progress Report, GENYOUth’s beginning is described as making “cultural shifts” in school nutrition and exercise, stating further that, “Through signing a six-way Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Dairy Council, the National Football League, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services, we have created a productive synergy that has made the sky the limit for GENYOUth.”

According to a report at its website, genyouthnow.org, the foundation seeks to “convene leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

The 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City was billed as “honoring America’s everyday superheroes” and the Vanguard Award, as mentioned, went to PepsiCo.

But let’s go back to the second gala on Dec. 7, 2017 aboard the Intrepid in New York City. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack — who now serves as CEO of dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) — was presented with the Vanguard Award that year.

The GENYOUth website cited “Vilsack’s accomplishments for dairy farmers” under President Obama — for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids.”

More specifically, the Vilsack accolades stated that he partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move!” initiative — “alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children.”

These words show the partnership the NDC / DMI has had with the Obama / Vilsack administration on shared goals of promoting exercise and low-fat / high carb diets for children and youth.

According to the former GENYOUth foundation website before it was revamped to genyouthnow.org, the Vanguard Award presentation to Vilsack was described in January 2018 as follows:

“Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

What was included in these “significant improvements” in 2010?

For starters, America’s schools were forced to offer only fat-free flavored milk and only 1% or fat-free white milk, while the screws were tightened on the requirement that less than 10% of a school meal’s calories could come from saturated fat and by reducing the total number of calories in a meal served to children at school, while at the same time putting both program and promotion emphasis on plant-based meals containing scant lean protein.

This means that not only are dairy producers prohibited from putting their best and most nutritious foot forward with future milk drinkers at school, the schools are forced to serve butter substitutes and imitation cheese or cheeses that are diluted with starch to decrease the amount of calories the students receive from fat).

During the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2018, keynote speaker Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise — without realizing the significance of her statement — put these USDA / GENYOUth ideas to shame. She stated:

“The fat we eat is not the fat we get. The idea that 60 minutes of exercise can make up for a bad diet is disingenuous. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”

And Teicholz backed up her statement with facts, studies and charts.

Her 2014 book details her 10-years investigation, revealing the lack of sound science to support low-fat diets. Not only are new studies bearing this out, old studies were found to have been “buried” by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and American Heart Association, because they did not support the fat-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys.

GENYOUth and FUTP60 not only dutifully “followed” these government guidelines but in reality worked alongside the Obama administration to develop them and further the reach of this low-fat dogma.

The implementation of those school milk rules have cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales. Losses so steep that they drove the gradual declines in fluid milk consumption (see Fluid Milk Timeline chart below) plunging downward like a rock from 2010 through 2017 (most recent full-year figures)

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Timelines don’t lie. As we look at this fluid milk timeline, we can see the layered effects of government dietary policy, USDA requirements for fat-free milk (2010), that move occurring alongside the creation of GENYOUth (2010) and some reversal in whole milk trends moving higher after Nina Teicholz’s book Big Fat Surprise made the cover of Time magazine. Meanwhile, the past decade has also been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate. 

Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives addressed these losses on a dairy policy forum panel in Washington exactly one year ago on January 8, 2018. Gray said: “For the last six years (2010 through 2016 data), we have not been able to sell 1% milk in the schools.”

He noted that in just the four years from 2012 to 2015, dairy producers had “lost 288 million half pints of sales to schoolchildren because of this move, alone.” And those losses continued through 2016 and 2017 and into 2018, despite the small move by the Trump administration to allow 1% flavored milk back into schools.

This is an uphill battle to turn around — what with all the fat-free and low-fat promotion and the fact that schools are already aligned with processors that prefer to keep the fat-free pipeline going.

In addition to GENYOUth honoring Secretary Vilsack with the 2017 Vanguard Award, the National Dairy Board provided him a checkoff-funded salaried position as CEO of USDEC, where his rallying cry has been to get export sales to 20% of expanding total milk production while Class I sales as a percentage of total milk production declined to below 20% by the end of 2017.

Remember, experts at various dairy market forums throughout 2018 have made the point that exports do not raise farm-level milk prices because they are “commodity clearing markets.”

But maybe that is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors is reduced for the many other products competing globally for export sales to increase. Meanwhile, a pipeline for fat-free milk sales keeps the cost of milkfat for other products from accelerating in the farm milk check.

The highest-value class under the Federal Order pricing scheme is the shrinking piece of an expanding commodity-dairy-production-for-export pie.

Meanwhile, the past decade has been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate.

One can argue that the National Dairy Council — whether simply following USDA’s lead or by working alongside USDA to lead — has played right into the hands of GENYOUth ‘friend’ PepsiCo / Quaker.

Remember, Quaker was a company that DMI specifically partnered with a few years back, but the milk part of the Quaker Oatmeal promotion never really materialized, just like we don’t see the milk part promoted in any of the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 spots. But the NFL is joined at the hip to PepsiCo with side-by-side logos during televised games.

Now, just six weeks after receiving the 2018 Vanguard award from GENYOUth, PepsiCo is launching its own Quaker Oat beverage.

In fact, PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey had the audacity to do a brief sales-pitch for what he called “our new oat milk” in his remarks after NFL commissioner Goodell handed him the highest GENYOUth award on behalf of the NFL and the National Dairy Council.

We’ll dig into that in future parts of this investigative series.

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How do we unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

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A dairy panel with Mike Eby, Nina Teicholz (center), Lorraine Lewandrowski and John King (not pictured) was eye-opening to food-interested people at the 25th NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Minds were opened as food policy influencers report weeks later some are reading Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, and it is changing their thinkingAllied Milk Producers helped sponsor this panel. Stay tuned. 

JUNK NUTRITION SCIENCE STILL RULES DIETARY GUIDELINES

25th NESAWG brings dairy to table in Philadelphia 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 14, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Justice, power, influence… Balance. How do people unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

How do Americans have faith in an increasingly globalized food system that gives them choices, but behind the scenes, makes choices for them?

How do urban and rural people connect?

These questions and more were addressed as hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life gathered for two days in center-city Philadelphia recently for the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left), a central New York dairy farmer and attorney, talks with Niaz Dorry of NFFC. Dorry spoke on the opening panel about her 67,000-mile tour of rural America, urging others to “meet the farmers where they are.” Lewandrowski spoke about the ecology of rainfed grasslands in the Northeast and the struggle of family dairy farms throughout this landscape.

For Niaz Dorry of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the answer is simple: “Get out into the countryside and meet the farmers — where they are,” she said, during the opening panel of the conference as she talked of her recently completed America the Bountiful tour, driving over 67,000 miles of countryside — coast to coast.

Dorry also touched on the dairy crisis. “Go and experience their grief with them. Be with them at milking on Tuesday and see them sell a portion of their cows on Wednesday — just to make payroll.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding echoed this theme during the lunch address as he said agriculture is “zipcode-neutral,” that we need to forge “a more perfect union in our food system” but that the future lies in “differentiating” agriculture here.

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“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation…” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russ Redding.

“It’s nice to be with folks who understand the power of food to change lives,” said Redding as he mentioned rooftop gardens, urban brownfields and Pennsylvania’s rank as number two in the nation for organic sales.

“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation, by being able to grow and produce and market organic agriculture,” said Sec. Redding.

With the NESAWG goal to “cultivate a transformative food system,” panels and breakouts covered topics from building networks and insuring equity among sectors to understanding urban food trends and ways to position Northeast agriculture within the power grid that ordains the direction of mainstream food production, processing and distribution today.

A breakout session on building “farm-to-school” hubs, for example, gave attendees insight for getting more fresh, local foods into school meals. Presenters talked about obstacles, and how they are navigated, about martialing available resources, identifying networks, working in collaboration with others, piloting ideas and growing them. Farm-to-School began in 2007, and it is growing.

Another breakout brought a panel of dairy producers to share with urban neighbors the crisis on Northeast dairy farms. The panel featured the work of dairy producers Jonathan and Claudia Haar of West Edmeston, New York, who spoke about consolidation that has been underway for decades in dairy.

But it was an afternoon panel — Milk Economies, Ecology and Diet — that put dairy and livestock producers squarely in the realm of hope for a re-wind.

Keynoting this panel was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise and founder of The Nutrition Coalition. She covered the history of current government Dietary Guidelines and how rigorous studies have been ignored for decades because they don’t “fit” the narrative on saturated fats and cholesterol.

She was joined by dairy farmer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County, New York, who spoke on dairy ecology and how the rainfed grasslands and croplands of Northeast dairy farms are a haven to wildlife, especially important species of birds and butterflies and pollinators.

They were joined by Mike Eby and John King of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, representing National Dairy Producers Organization and Allied Milk Producers. The two men spoke on the dairy economy and what is happening on family dairy farms, struggling to remain viable.

“The land is most important to us,” said Lewandrowski about her deep love of Honey Hill, where her family has farmed for four generations. While, she is an attorney in town with farmers among her clients, she also helps her brother with the farm and her sister with her large animal veterinary practice.

Lewandrowski is known as @NYFarmer to her over 26,000 followers on Twitter — generating over 75,000 interactions from nearly a quarter-million tweets in the past 10 years!

She described a reverence for the land and its wildlife — cohabitating with a rich agricultural heritage and sense of rural community that exists within an afternoon’s drive of New York City.

“We have land that is rich in water,” she said with a nod to a dairy industry consolidating into regions that rely on irrigation.

“Our lands are rainfed: 21 million gallons of water run through our farm with an inch of rainfall,” she said. “Our farms are diverse across this landscape. But our farmers are going out of business in this economy. So many of these farms are then turned into urban sprawl. What will become of the people, the land and its wildlife?”

Lewandrowski talked about identifying bird species on their farm, of the crops and pasture in dairy operations, and the economic hardships she sees firsthand. She shared her vision of Northeast rural lands and what they bring to urban tables and communities.

Introducing Teicholz to an audience primarily of urban people, Lewandrowski shared how dairy farmers feel — working hard to produce healthy food, and then contending with poor prices driven by regulations that suppress its value.

“I didn’t know why our food is not considered good and healthy. Nina’s book gave me hope,” she said. “We are fighting for our land, and yet the vegans are so mean. When our farmers go out of business, they cheer on social media. They cheer when our families lose everything. But the land and wildlife lose also, and the vegans cheer.”

Teicholz traced the history of her 10-year investigation that led to The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It started with a newspaper assignment on dietary fat.

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Nina Teicholz explains the revelations of a decade of investigation leading to The Big Fat Surprise. In the 5 years since publishing, farmers seek her out to thank her. She says she never realized how it must feel to be a dairy or meat producer — producing a healthy product while being told it is not healthy and seeing your livelihood pushed down by faulty dietary controls.

“Before I knew it, I had taken this huge deep-dive into fats and realized we have gotten it all completely wrong,” said Teicholz, a former vegetarian for 25 years before her research.

“I’m here to speak today because I found Lorraine’s twitter account and fell in love with her photos and stories from the dairy farm,” said Teicholz. In the nearly five years since her book was published, awareness of ignored science has been raised.

A California native, living in New York City, Teicholz described herself as an urban person and how surprised she was to hear the stories from farmers about how her book and her work gives them hope.

“It breaks my heart to now realize that — after all this time — the dairy farmers and meat producers have been led to feel that there is something wrong with the food they are producing, and to see how vegans go after these farmers, and now after me too,” Teicholz related.

“How did we come to believe these things that led to the decline in foods like whole milk, and have pushed down the producer?” Teicholz traced the history of dietary caps to the theory of one researcher — Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota.

“Concern about heart disease in the 1960s led to many theories. The diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys was just one theory, but he was unshakably confident in his own beliefs, and he was considered arrogant, even by his friends,” said Tiecholz.

“When the American Heart Association nutrition committee first supported Keys’ recommendations — even though the scientific evidence was very weak — that was the little acorn that grew into the giant oak, and it’s why we are where we are today,” she explained.

Methodically, Teicholz took her audience through the science that was used to support Keys’ theory, as well as the many more rigorous studies that were buried for decades.

In fact, some of the very research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that had set out to prove causation for Keys’ theory was buried in the NIH basement because “the results were so disappointing to that theory.”

The studies that did not validate Keys’ theory — that fat in the diet is the cause of heart disease, obesity and other diseases — were suppressed, along with the studies that outright refuted his theory. A steady drumbeat of science — both new and exposed from those earlier times — shows a reverse association and causation.

48329399_2290819234570553_8398919649542012928_n.pngIn fact, since the Dietary Guidelines capped saturated fat in the 1980s — becoming progressively more restrictive in requiring lowfat / high carb diets — the data show the association, that Americans have become more obese, with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

“It feels like the battle is endless,” John King said as he spoke of the real struggle on dairy farms and of selling his dairy herd in 2015. “But it is rewarding and encouraging to see what people are doing to expose the truth now.”

King posed the question: “Do urban communities really care about rural communities? If not, then we are done. Our food will come from somewhere else and the system will be globalized.

“As farmers, we care about what we produce, and we care about our animals,” he said. “What happens to us on our farms trickles down to the urban areas. It’s an uphill battle to try to go against the status quo, and we need urban communities to care if we are going to be successful. It comes down to whether urban and rural care about each other. Do we care about our neighbors?”

Teicholz sees the U.S. being in the midst of a paradigm shift. However, it is taking time for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to change and open up to the science. She noted that in the 2015-2020 guidelines, the caps were removed for cholesterol, but they were kept in place for saturated fat.

“The cholesterol we consume has nothing to do with blood cholesterol,” said Teicholz. “The body produces cholesterol, and if we eat fat, our body makes less of it. It is the science that remains buried that needs to continue to surface. People need to know that the fat you eat is not the fat you get.”

She cited studies showing the healthfulness of full-fat dairy, that drinking whole milk and consuming the healthy fats in butter, beef, bacon and cheese are the fastest ways to increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is the saturated fat caps in the current guidelines that are the reason whole milk, real butter, beef, and 100% real cheese are not served in schools today, said Teicholz. She showed attendees how these recommendations drive the food supply.

“The recommendations are allowing children to have whole milk only for the first two years of life, after that, at age one or two, children on skim milk,” she said. “The recommendations drive what we eat whether we realize it or not.”

She showed how the current flawed Dietary Guidelines drive the diets of the military, school children, daycare centers, WIC programs, hospitals, prisons, retirement villages. And these recommendations are downloaded by foodservice and healthcare: physicians, dieticians, nutrition services, foodservice menu guides. They are driving how dairy and meat products are presented in restaurants, fast food chains and other menus of choice. They are driving the current FDA nutrition innovation strategy that is working on a symbol for “healthy” and looking at modernizing standards of identity to accomplish these nutritional goals that focus on lowfat / high carb diets.

“Meanwhile, it is the unsaturated fats, the new products in the food supply, that are negatively affecting us and those are all there… in the USDA feeding programs,” Teicholz pointed out.

Others in the panel discussion pointed to an anti-animal view, that cattle are bad for the planet in terms of climate change. These views perpetuate the current dietary guidelines. In fact, in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to introduce “sustainability” guidelines on what they deemed “healthy” for the planet into these guidelines, officially.

This is the ecology side that Lewandrowski addressed, showing urban food influencers how the concept of sustainability is being overtaken and systemized and how Northeast dairy farmers have a great story to tell that is being ignored, drowned-out.

“We have to think about how the shifts are occurring in the food system and manage those shifts. We can work together and make change happen,” said Mike Eby, articulating the message of National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), seeking to work with the system to manage farmers’ interests.

Allied Milk Producers helped sponsor this dairy panel, and Eby said that whether it is milk promotion through Allied, membership in NDPO, or supporting the buying and donating of dairy products through Dairy Pricing Association (DPA), it is important for people to participate.

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Mike Eby and John King brought Allied Milk Producers materials — and plenty of milk — to the NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Amos Zimmerman also had a booth for Dairy Pricing Association.

He gave examples of how Allied and DPA — funded by farmers — are reaching out to consumers, schools, urban communities with donations of product and a positive message.

“We need more people to get involved to fix these issues, and to create a system that supports its producers and stabilizes prices,” said Eby.

“We need to reach out and work together as urban and rural communities,” added Lewandrowski.

 

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Hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life attended the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Philadelphia, where networking from urban to rural looked at regional solutions.

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Being real: Dairywomen share insights, Part One

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s Women in Dairy month and the season of harvest and Thanksgiving, so I reached out to more than a dozen women across two generations and several states for their insights and wisdom. Each woman received the same five questions, and the feedback was both informative and inspirational. Here is part one.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 16, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — When asked what challenges and opportunities women see in dairying today, many of those interviewed pointed out the low milk prices and the difficulty in managing costs and juggling payments through the months when milk prices don’t stretch. But even more so, they identified consumer communication as a primary challenge.

“Conveying milk and dairy products as superior (because dairy is), conveying the economic struggle… and meeting consumer demand and desires with economic realities,” writes Katie Sattazahn of Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania describing the main challenges she sees for dairy.

Katie is part of Zahncroft Farms LLC with 250 Holstein and Brown Swiss cows in a conventional freestall and parlor facility. She manages the calves and does the farm financials and is part of the third generation of the farm owned and operated in partnership with her husband and brother-in-law.

She also shares snippets of life on the dairy — the basics with the hows and the whys — with her friends on her personal facebook page.

Other women, too, expressed their desire to have the general public understand more fully what dairy producers face and to know the clear nutritional benefits of dairy over other choices in the food and beverage marketplace.

An interesting observation by many dairywomen is that there seems to be a large gap of understanding between farmers who are struggling and the industry representatives who receive a paycheck, regardless.

This was touched upon by Jessica Peters of Meadville, Pennsylvania also. She farms in partnership with her brother and father as the fifth generation, milking 275 Jerseys through the parlor at Spruce Row Farm.

She does a column in Hoards, in which she touched on this topic.

Jessica also does the farm’s facebook page with over 5800 followers, and her “See Jess Farm” style has drawn consumers and other farmers into the discussions of all things dairy, including a lot of myth-busting. She has become known for her social media expressions, including videos where she is clear to be herself and to be real and to be entertaining.

Recently, she spoke to a group of industry representatives and warned them that her presentation would be unlike anything they’d ever seen.

“I talked about what I do online and why I do it,” says Jessica. “I touched on what they can do for us. I told them to understand life sucks for us right now, that it is difficult for us to answer the phone because you want money, and we don’t have any, and you are our friends, and it is awkward,” she explains in her very honest and direct manner.

She also produced a little video “Dear struggling farmer,” several months ago that has continued to fill her phone and inbox with others reaching out to talk or to thank her for putting into words what they are feeling and could not express.

After speaking to bankers and industry reps, Jessica says she couldn’t believe how many came up to her and said they did not realize how hard it is right now. The difficulties go beyond dollars and sense and what Peters describes is the reality of what people feel and how it affects relationships and every part of their lives and businesses.

“My dad always says we don’t want to be complainers, and I am not a Debbie-downer, but not speaking about what we feel is part of what got us here,” she says.

For Katie, the challenge of meeting consumer desires for small to mid-sized family-run farms in an environment where processors and agribusinesses are leaning toward wanting larger farms, is an example of the challenging gap in understanding.

“How do we give consumers what they want — quickly — so they don’t find another product to consume?” Katie asks. “We have a superior product that we don’t need to alter… We just need to educate consumers to understand that dairy packs a huge nutritional package per dollar of cost. As a younger farmer, I recognize everyone needs to eat … so the opportunity in 20-plus years is definitely there for our generation.”

Renee Troutman farms with her husband, milking 100 Holsteins in Berks County, Pennsylvania. She milks, raises calves, does the heat detection and bookkeeping.
Seeing the challenge of rapid consolidation of the dairy industry, Renee points out the impact of diminished market options, which was not the case when they started farming.

“The dairy gave us a great quality of life for our first decade in, and it was our plan and desire to continue that way. But things are changing in the industry and the feeling of becoming obsolete because of our size and structure is tangible. The last several years of low milk prices has all but eroded that first decade of progress,” says Renee.

She and others talk about looking ahead at ways to diversify and ways to get closer to consumers who seem to want that relationship with food producers.

In a broader way of relating to others, Jessica put some of the farming realities in the form of submitted photos into a recent “This is Farming” video for National Farmer’s Day in October, organized to an uplifting and inspiring song.

“I am very millennial. It has to be fun or emotional to catch my attention, and that’s what I try to do with my videos, catch their attention and just be myself,” she says.

The “This is Farming” video is something she had in her head for awhile after watching The Greatest Showman. She loves music and theater. It was Jessica Peters — along with Katie Dotterer-Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, Maryland — who started the “dairy dance off” earlier this year where farmers, farm women, farm kids across the country caught on with little stress-relieving videos of themselves or others on the farm dancing karioke-style while doing chores.

For “This is Farming,” Jessica had the vague idea in her mind, but then decided to post a request for photos at the Dairy Girl Network facebook group. On-farm photos started pouring in from across the country. Within a half hour, she had 300 photos. It took 6 hours to edit the video together, and she posted it later that day on Facebook and YouTube. (Here’s a link to it again: This is Farming)

“I never expected such a good response,” Jessica says. “It is one of those videos that speaks to the heart for those in and out of the industry.”

She notes further that “everyone is feeling this concern right now.”

Jessica and others say they see the emotion in conversations and posts in networking groups and in the unspoken word.

“People need a place to go to connect,” she says.

“I guess one of the most important things I want people to know is that they are not personally failing,” says Jessica. “It’s almost like agriculture as a whole is falling hard right now, and that we need to talk to each other and realize that even though it feels personal, it’s not.”

She too is concerned about the public perception of agriculture, but takes it a step farther. She wants it to be real.

“People don’t seem to consider farmers as people. I just don’t think they realize we are people, the same as everyone else. We have done that by setting ourselves apart from the average consumer,” Jessica observes.

That’s changing through social media and dairywomen who give glimpses of life on the farm within the context of every day life their non-farm peers can relate to.

“Building relationships is important as a first step with the goal of getting others to trust you enough to come to you when they have that question,” says Jessica.

Look for more dairywomen wisdom as this series continues with Part 2 in the Nov. 23, 2018 edition of Farmshine and posted here online at Agmoos.

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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