NY launches state bills to put whole milk option back in schools, joins PA in tackling federal prohibition

‘Let’s get this done’All urged to contact New York Governor and state legislators to ‘put whole milk back in schools’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 6, 2022

SHARON SPRINGS, N.Y. — It was a rainy, dreary Monday (May 2), but dairy nutrition advocacy was bright and sunny in the feed room at Ridgedale Farm. The Conard family hosted a press conference supporting New York State legislation to bring whole and 2% milk back to schools.

Patterned after the Pennsylvania bill that has already passed the state House and is expected to be voted on in the Senate this month, the New York bill would support schools in their desire to offer more milk options, including whole and 2% milk produced on New York farms. The bill includes provisions for the Commissioner of Education to notify school superintendents about the flexibility as well as for the State Attorney General to file civil suits on behalf of schools if the federal government withholds other-than-milk funding.

While some media outlets continue to point to the superiority of federal regulations, there is a groundswell of state lawmakers saying “enough is enough” when it comes to the children and the farmers being victims of regs based on false narratives that push young people away from the very nutrition they need, and the very nutrients the Dietary Guidelines committee admitted their government-sanctioned dietary patterns are not providing.

The movement to have state legislatures get involved is not – as some would say – ‘political theater.’ No, this is the reality of where ‘we the people’ get a voice in the very sustenance of farms, food, and future generations. 

In Pennsylvania, it began with U.S. Congressman G.T. Thompson (Dist. 15) with H.R. 1861 as well as State Rep. John Lawrence (Dist. 13) with HB 2397. In New York State, it began with Congressman Antonio Delgado (Dist. 19) a prime cosponsor of H.R. 1861 and Assemblyman Chris Tague (Dist. 102) introducing A9990 with 25 cosponsors. Within a week of Tague’s bill, State Senator George Borrello (Dist. 57) sponsored S8999 with cosponsor Peter Oberacker (Dist. 51).

The New York legislation has been referred to each chamber’s Education Committee. Tague and Borrello are Ranking Members of each chamber’s Agriculture Committee.

Tague and Borrello were joined Monday by other supporting lawmakers, government officials, nutrition and education experts, dairy farmers, FFA members, school superintendents, town mayors, school principals, discussing why it is so important and urging a public groundswell to contact all NYS lawmakers and the Governor’s office in support.

“We are going to get whole milk back in schools. We’re dispelling the myths propagated by many over the years,” said Tague.

“I ask every one of you to spread the word — to your friends, to your family, to your neighbors, even your enemies. Ask them to join us. Call, email and text every single member of the New York State legislature. Tell them: ‘Put whole milk back in our schools!” he exclaimed.

“Then call Governor Hochul and tell Kathy we want whole milk back in our schools,” Tague explained that the bill must go through committee, then to the floor, then get voted on, and then it would go to the Governor.

“Government and misinformed people need to stop biting the hand that feeds them,” he added. “We cannot live without good nutritious foods. No farms, no food. How does a young person today make a go at it? Farmers are not only ‘price takers,’ they take everything else that comes at them. There’s never anybody that stands up for them. That ends today. We’re here to stand up for you.”

Senator Borrello reflected on the problem, which he said is “based on false narratives. A long time ago, they convinced us that taking skimmed milk and pouring it on high sugar, no fat, breakfast cereal was somehow a good breakfast choice for kids, and they’ve taken whole milk out of our schools. The result has been more waste, it ends up in the garbage. And what have we told our kids to do? It’s okay to have energy drinks and other things that just aren’t good for your health. We’ve also seen a dramatic rise in obesity rates.”

The data for these dietary patterns just is not there, said Borrello.

“Now we know that having fat in the diet is not only good for kids, it helps with their growth, and the kids that do drink whole milk actually end up with less obesity. The science had changed, but unfortunately, our government has not,” he said. “We should give the children the choice. But most importantly, we should recognize this is a good choice. That’s why this is an important bill. Most people don’t understand, that even whole milk is 97% fat free.”

Borrello observed these current dietary rules have further impact, that they are “the beginning of the push to take us away from products like milk, that want to push us toward things like almond beverage, which is not milk, and other things. That’s the real agenda here. Let’s understand that whole milk is nutritious. It feeds your brain. It feeds your body. It is probably one of the best, most nutritious drinks that you can have. But instead of serving that, they want to push these artificially created products onto our children and tell them that’s okay,” he said.

“We need to give them this (whole milk) choice because it is the right thing to do and because it is also good for agriculture, the most important and largest industry in New York State. People forget that. We are here today from all points of the state standing united to say this is the right time to bring back whole milk into our schools,” Borrello stressed.

Nutrition expert agreed

Toby Amidor, registered dietitian, nutrition expert, food safety consultant, instructor, speaker and author in New York City, drove out from Brooklyn to give her thoughts on the bill and whole milk misconceptions.

She confirmed the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans “pinpoint three under-consumed nutrients that are found in milk, that people of all ages, including school age children, adolescent children, even toddlers, they don’t get enough of,” said Amidor.

“Those nutrients are calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Milk is a vehicle that you can get all of this nourishment into children in order to grow and thrive like we want them to. It’s an important thing to give them a choice. Choose (the milk) you want,” she explained.

Amidor was joined by various school system superintendents noting the key concern of student access to nutrition.

“School is where many children get their nourishment. So that’s where you want to give them these choices,” said Amidor. “It’s okay to have the fat in milk… it’s a nourishing drink, the fat increases the palatability of that nourishment – more power to it!”

School officials were blunt

“We have a large food service system and are highly focused on farm-to-school initiatives. Milk is one of those,” said Anita Murphy, Capitol Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) superintendent, representing 24 districts and 80,000 schoolchildren across four NYS counties.

“On a personal level, I don’t drink skim milk. If that’s the only thing there, I pass,” said Murphy. “I think that’s what happens with our children. If you walk into our cafeterias, what you will see is kids passing on milk. A lot of these kids eat two meals a day at school, and that’s it. That’s what they get, so if we don’t give them those things that they need and that they want that are good for them, we are making a mistake. We are willing to lend any support you need to get this done.”

Representing 22 school districts and more than 30,000 students, Dr. Gladys Kruse, Questar III BOCES district superintendent concurred. She thanked the lawmakers for their efforts.

“We need more children to drink milk to get the nutrition they need. We know some of our students get two of their meals a day at our schools. When we hear students throwing away their lunch or their milk, or we hear of farmers having to dump the milk they cannot sell, it is time to reevaluate and reconsider the options and the policies. This legislation is a welcome step in expanding the availability and consumption of milk locally and across the state,” said Dr. Kruse.

Thanking Tague for his leadership, Kruse stated the bill would “provide the flexibility to have more milk options available to our students. This includes whole milk and 2% milk produced here and across the state. From our first beverage as a child to a staple in our daily school lunches, milk is fuel of our young people’s growth and development.”

From the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District, superintendent Dr. Tim Mundell talked about partnership and collaboration, calling the day’s event a great example of that.

“The passage of this bill would help us bring local whole milk to our students, viable nutrition and real value,” said Mundell noting the need for flexibility. “Students get two meals a day from us. Many of our students live in very isolated and rural areas and access to nutritional foods, like whole milk… for their health and well-being, it’s scarce, and it’s scary.”

“When we put kids at the center of all of our decisions and all of our advocacy, great things happen, and the decisions are easy. This (should be) a very easy decision,” he said.

Mundell also observed the losses in enrollments and economic opportunity throughout rural regions of the state. He said FFA leadership learning is so important, and when students are able to see agriculture economically thriving, it gets their minds thinking about life and options after high school.

“Passage of this bill will enhance the capacity of all rural areas in New York State to re-engage in economic development. We are on board for collaboration in making this economic activity happen,” he said.

From the dairy farmer perspective, Ray Dykeman of Dykeman and Sons, Fultonville admitted that farmers prefer being in the field or with the cows and doing the work producing nutritious food, but, he stressed that this advocacy is vital for the future.

“This bill is extremely important for the kids in school (and) for the dairy farmers in the area,” said Dykeman with appreciation to the Conard family and their “beautiful cows” as hosts.

He challenged people to compare whole milk’s label to most other beverage options, “if you can even pronounce half of the ingredients that were made in a laboratory. We were using milk products as many as 10,000 years ago. Why not trust the cow, probably one of the most perfect animals in the world?”

Dykeman also thanked the lawmakers for taking on this issue to bring whole milk back to schools at a time when dairy farms are challenged. “This legislation will support our hard working dairy farm family businesses and get more milk into New York schools. This is very encouraging. Agriculture is our number one industry, and milk is our number one commodity.”

Among the panel of speakers, the New York Farm Bureau and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association (NEDPA), based in Geneseo, were represented. Behind the scenes and joined by 30 other farmers in the Ridgedale feed room were grassroots whole milk promoters Duane Spaulding and Ann Diefendorf. They brought the 97 Milk messages and signage used prominently throughout the event.

In fact, Tague thanked the grassroots efforts of farmers, of 97 Milk, and even mentioned Milk Baleboard originator Nelson Troutman in his opening remarks.

For Farm Bureau, Todd Heyn noted their “long advocacy for the return of whole milk to schools, giving districts the ability to provide this healthy and nutritious dairy product to school kids.”

Heyn reported the bill would “provide additional markets for whole milk, a Class I dairy product that earns dairy farmers a higher price.” 

Heyn said this would support New York dairy farmers and raise awareness to find a workable solution at the national level, explaining that Farm Bureau is formally asking USDA to “follow the science around nutrition and revise the school nutrition guidelines for dairy products in the school lunch programs.”

The energy was really high by the time NEDPA executive director Tonya Van Slyke got to the podium. She talked about dairy farmers are part of a global economy but take pride in what they do locally… especially in schools.

While Tague and Borrello held the sign taken from images at 97milk.com touting all the benefits of whole milk, Van Slyke — a mother and dairy farmer — recalled walking intop the school cafeteria and being asked by the director: “’Dairy farmer, how did you let this happen? Why are they taking the healthy fat away from my babies?’ Nutrition helps them have good brain power.”

As she turned to Tague and thanked him and his colleagues, Van Slyke said: “Let’s get this done,” and the room erupted in echoes and applause.

Tague, a former dairy farmer himself, noted he had actually milked a famous cow in the very barn where the event was held Monday. He worked years ago for Wayne Conard and his father Willis. He made a direct appeal to the farmers, encouraging farmers everywhere to get into the game.

“We have a lot of work to do. This press conference today is just the beginning… the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Sometimes as farmers, we are too proud and too busy to let our voices be heard,” he said. “But folks, it ends today. We’ve got to get up and scream it. We’ve got to make them hear us that enough is enough. 

“Let’s leave here today with one thing in mind: Whole Milk back in our schools!”

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PA Lawmakers ready to fight federal government, House Ag passes HB 2397, which would allow whole milk option in schools

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 1, 2022

HARRISBURG, Pa. – “Today became whole milk day in Harrisburg, and we hope to see these bills on the Governor’s desk soon,” said Chairman Dan Moul of the Pennsylvania State House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Wednesday, March 30 about three pieces of legislation authored by Rep. John Lawrence.

The three dairy bills were part of a six-bill package that passed the Ag Committee and are now headed to the House floor and presumably to the Senate chamber. Several State Senators also attended Wednesday’s press conference in support of the dairy bills.

Attracting the most attention, of course, was House Bill 2397 — The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act — which was added to the package most recently with 31 cosponsors right out of the gate.

“Government has its place… but one place we do not need the government is in our daily lives in how we raise and nurture our children. Whole milk is healthy. It is proven. There is no disputing that children need this option in their lives to help grow strong. I am proud as chairman to get these bills out of my committee and on to the House floor with bipartisan support. I’m especially excited about House Bill 2397,” said Moul, joining Reps. Lawrence and Owlett, along with other cosponsors and Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert on the steps of the Atrium at the Capitol.

House Bill 2397 provides for Pennsylvania schools to buy Pennsylvania milk produced on Pennsylvania farms with Pennsylvania funds to serve to Pennsylvania children. As long as all of that happens within Pennsylvania, that’s really not an issue that is under the purview of the federal government,” said Rep. Lawrence, representing Chester County and parts of Lancaster County.

“There’s also a provision in this bill that if the federal government tries to pull funds (from a school) or tries to interfere, there will be legal action taken against the federal government so we can ensure this opportunity exists,” Lawrence explained.

Stressing that this bill would make the whole milk option voluntary for schools, Lawrence was quick to point out that, “No school would have to do this, but we know there are schools that are very interested in providing whole milk and whole chocolate milk to their students. This bill would allow them to do that.”

Lawrence went on to explain the background of the bill.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we have a robust dairy industry. We have a tradition that’s really second to none. But due to federal regulations that came down during the Obama administration, for over a decade now, school children in Pennsylvania and across the nation have been unable to enjoy whole milk or my favorite, whole chocolate milk, in school,” he said.

“More than just enjoyment, we know it is important. Leading research shows that whole milk is very beneficial for children in developing the mind,” said Lawrence.

Since the change in 2010, “we have really lost a generation of kids who actually know what milk is supposed to taste like, and oh, by the way, they have missed out on the nutrition from it as well,” said Rep. Owlett, the bill’s prime cosponsor. He represents northern tier counties of Tioga and Bradford. “This (federal regulation) took a huge part of Pennsylvania’s fluid milk market away from our farmers. Pennsylvania is a fluid milk market state.”

Owlett cited statistics showing that since 2010, Pennsylvania has lost 2,140 dairy farms, including 230 lost last year, and has slipped from seventh to eighth, being fifth before these school milk regulations were put in place at the federal level.

“When a single dairy farm sells out, the ripple effect of that is felt throughout the entire community,” said Owlett, noting that in his district, “a tremendous number of farms have been selling out in the last 10 years.”

Citing Penn State numbers from extension agent Craig Williams, Owlett noted that since 2012, Tioga County has lost at least 57 dairy farms and Bradford County at least 142.

“Without a doubt this is in part because of this failed policy that came down from D.C.,” said Owlett. “I really love House Bill 2397, and it is a great honor to work with Rep. Lawrence on this. It is a PA issue, alone, that is the beauty of this bill. If a PA school wants to offer PA whole milk with PA dollars… Guess what federal government? We’re going to do it! If you try to stop us, our attorney general is going to sue you on behalf of a school district.”

Owlett and others noted that this bill is how state lawmakers can “stand up for our farmers, our kids and our schools in Pennsylvania.”

“We want to make sure those kids get the nutrition from milk, and that it actually tastes good, instead of throwing it in the trash can,” said Owlett.

Like Lawrence, Owlett noted there are schools in his district that are looking forward to this option and need this protection to exercise that choice.

Lawmakers thanked the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau for their leadership in promoting the bill in Harrisburg. Speaking for PFB, Rick Ebert said HB 2397 will help foster a new generation of kids who like milk again.

“I have been a dairy farmer for 40 years, and we ship to Turner in Penn Hills,” said Ebert. “They put a lot of products into schools. It is nice to see this support from lawmakers to keep our Pennsylvania dairy industry strong and viable.”

When asked how much money the federal government pays in milk reimbursement right now, Lawrence noted that the overall picture of education funds shows the vast majority, 98 to 99%, comes from state and local funds.

While it is true that schools would not get reimbursed for whole milk they buy to offer students, the larger issue is their fear over education funds being pulled for federal mandates because of “disobeying” federal dietary guidelines with the offering of whole milk as a choice.

“As long as schools use state and local funds to make the whole milk available, this bill gives them protection from those actions,” said Lawrence. “This is optional. If a school wants to go down this road, they would be able to. But if they want to continue down the current path, they can do that too. We know some schools are ready for this, but the long arm of the federal government and that regulatory thrust gives them pause. For those schools that are interested in pursuing this option, the bill provides the protection to make it happen.”

Lawmakers attending the press conference made it clear that this package of bills, especially H.B. 2397, will have a positive impact on Pennsylvania dairy farmers.

When asked how much of an impact, Ebert said simply: “We’ve all seen the steady decline in milk consumption. When we lose farmers, they are not coming back. With every loss of a dairy cow (in PA), we lose $14,000 to $15,000 of economic activity in Pennsylvania. If we sell more product in Pennsylvania, then that boosts the economy for our farmers and the economy for the infrastructure that supports them.”

When asked by a reporter where the Senate stands and the leadership, State Senator Camera Bartolotta, representing Beaver, Greene and Washington counties, spoke up.

“We’ve already been talking about it,” said Senator Barolotta. “We are going to be pushing it along in the Senate as soon as it gets to our chamber. This is going to be good for our farmers, but more importantly, it helps get kids back to (being able) to drink whole milk again that is good for them. It’s time to protect our kids and our dairy farmers and our number one industry.”

Passing the Ag Committee along with H.B. 2397 are two other bills Rep. Lawrence has been working on for many years as reported on recently in Farmshine.

“House Bill 223 provides tax incentives to bring new and additional dairy processing to Pennsylvania that commit to using Pennsylvania milk to provide opportunity for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers,” said Lawrence about the other bills heading to the House floor. “House Bill 224 would provide the Milk Marketing Board with the opportunity to provide more transparency and accountability around the state-mandated over-order milk premium.”

Lawrence stated that he sees the most enthusiasm in the House for H.B. 2397 the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, but all three bills are important for Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers.

Tackling school milk at state level: Rep Lawrence introduces whole milk bill, HB 2397, in PA House with 31 cosponsors

John Lawrence speaking to farmers at a winter meeting two weeks before he introduced HB 2397 Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools with 31 cosponsors.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 25, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, has been officially introduced in the State House by author and prime sponsor State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th). 

Introduced with 31 cosponsors on March 17, the bill is now “pending” in the House Agriculture Committee. This is one of three dairy bills Lawrence has introduced this year.

The provisions of H.B. 2397 would become effective 30 days after passage and would include state notification of all Pennsylvania schools to alert them to the state’s provisions for the purchase and offering of whole milk and reduced fat milk to students, so long as this milk is produced by cows on Pennsylvania farms, bottled in Pennsylvania processing facilities and paid for with state or local funds.

According to Lawrence, there is broad support for the bill in the State House, and he has received favorable responses from members of the State Senate. He has heard from schools, organizations and individuals applauding the tenets of this bill over the past several weeks since circulating his cosponsor letter to colleagues.

When asked recently about the bill, Rep. Lawrence said he was tired of waiting for the federal government to act on this issue of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. 

After thinking about the dilemma for some time, he had what he described as divine inspiration a couple months ago to structure the bill as an “intra-state” jurisdiction under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration to approach the bill as one that enables schools to voluntarily make choices and structure the voluntary provisions as being a wholly Pennsylvania deal.

“We have jurisdiction on this,” he states.

When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students, Lawrence explains.

Specifically, the bill would allow Pennsylvania school boards to utilize funds from state or local sources to obtain whole Pennsylvania milk or reduced fat Pennsylvania milk to provide or sell at a Pennsylvania school. 

In the bill, Pennsylvania whole milk is defined as at least 3% fat and Pennsylvania reduced fat milk is defined as 2% fat. They are further defined as “produced by the milking of cows physically located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, transported to a dairy processing facility located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, and processed as fluid milk into containers intended for distribution to consumers.”

The bill would also require the Secretary of Education to notify the superintendent or chief administrator of each Pennsylvania school to inform them of the provisions of the Act within 30 days of passage.

Further, the bill sets forth in Section 6 the right of civil action if any federal agency interferes by withholding or revoking school funds.

Specifically, this section would require the Office of Attorney General, on behalf of a Pennsylvania school, to bring a civil action against the federal government or any other entity to recover funds withheld or revoked as a result of an action taken by the school board to make Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% reduced fat milk available as choices under the “intra-state” — not interstate — provisions of the Act.

The bill also seeks a status report to the chairpersons of the House and Senate Ag Committees – no later than two years after passage. The report would be given by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB).

This report would provide a list of Pennsylvania schools that have elected to provide or sell Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% milk, the approximate increase or decrease in the overall consumption of fluid milk at Pennsylvania schools after the effective date, and the actions taken by the Commonwealth to promote whole milk and 2% milk availability in Pennsylvania schools.

The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, includes an expiration section that would require the Secretary of Education to submit notice if/when Congress repeals sections of law pertaining to the National School Lunch Act that currently prohibit these milk offerings in schools or at such time that an update to the Dietary Guidelines has been published — that in either case would effectively end the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools and make these choices available nationally again.

Joining Pennsylvania State Rep. Lawrence as cosponsors of the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act are Representatives Clinton Owlett (R-68th), Martin Causer (R-67th), Donald Cook (R-49th), Jim Cox (R-129th), Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108th), Eric Davanzo (R-58th), Russ Diamond (R-102nd), Torren Ecker (R-193rd), Melinda Fee (R-37th), Nancy Guenst (D-152nd), Joe Hamm (R-84th), David Hickernell (R-98th), Doyle Heffley (R-122nd), Robert James (R-64th), Barry Jozwiak (R-5th), Robert Kauffman (R-89th), Ryan Mackenzie (R-134th), Steven Mentzer (R-97th), David Millard (R-109th), Brett Miller, (R-41st), Eddie Pashinski (D-121st), Tina Pickett (R-110th), Greg Rothman (R-87th), David Rowe (R-85th), Louis Schmitt (R-79th), Brian Smith (R-66th), Perry Stambaugh (R-86th), James Struzzi (R-62nd), Ryan Warner (R-52nd), and David Zimmerman (R-99th).

Lawrence said H.B. 2397 was intentionally numbered so that ‘97’ would be part of the bill number, reflecting the whole milk education efforts of the 97 Milk movement.

“I feel like we are going to see this bill get to the finish line for our Pennsylvania school children and our dairy farmers,” says Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee which organized petition drives with large numbers of  Pennsylvanians signing to support similar legislation at the federal level — Congressman G.T. Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act.

“We can try to save everyone — and have been trying to do that for several years on this issue. But now, it’s time to focus on Pennsylvania. We can get this done in Pennsylvania and be a leader. This bill is brilliant, and a lot of people are grateful to John Lawrence for writing it,” Morrissey added.

“This is more confirmation of how important whole milk education is,” said 97 Milk chairman Gn Hursh, noting that as consumers have become aware of the benefits of whole milk and the federal prohibition in schools, they are joining farmers to seek these options for their children in schools.

In fact, two recent surveys show more parents choose whole milk and 2% milk for their families. A national Morning Consult survey for IDFA showed 78% of parents of school aged children believed whole milk or 2% milk to be most nutritious for their families. A national food preference survey for YouGov showed 53% of parents prefer whole milk for their children and only 23% preferred fat-free and 1%. 

USDA’s own data show a 24% decline in students selecting milk in the first year after the whole milk ban went into effect in 2012 and a 22% increase in discarded milk on top of that! It has only become worse since then. A recent school trial in Pennsylvania revealed a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had an expanded choice that included whole milk. In that trial, students preferred whole milk 3 to 1 over the skimmed varieties.

Bottomline, milk’s unsurpassed nutritional benefits are only realized by students if they choose milk and actually consume it. 

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is supporting H.B. 2397, according to Rep. Lawrence. “They called within an hour of seeing the cosponsor letter and said this has their full support,” he said.

PFB, along with members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, also testified in support of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools during a Senate policy hearing in June 2021

Previously, the Pennsylvania Milk Dealers, Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and various other industry organizations have been on record supporting Congressman Glenn Thompson’s bill at the federal level, so the same should hold true for this bill at the state-level.

Stay tuned as the State of Pennsylvania buckles down to tackle the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools… let’s keep the momentum going.

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The WHOLE story on IDFA’s school milk poll

The March 24 deadline is fast approaching to comment on future school lunch rules on milkfat and sodium. The dairy industry is focused on making sure 1% low-fat flavored milk is allowed after the next two years of ‘transitional’ flexibility. In fact, an IDFA poll of parents nationally and in New York City showed 85% of parents support the inclusion of 1% low-fat flavored milk as a school option. But here’s the WHOLE story from the poll — 78% of parents deem either whole milk or 2% as “most nutritious” for them and their families! But these were both dropped in 2008-10 as part of the meal and outright prohibited as an a la carte beverage in 2012. A 2020 paper in the Journal of Dairy Science reported just 66% of students chose milk in the 2014-15 school year compared with 75% in 2005. Low-fat 1% and fat-free milk were the rock-bottom vote getters among parents nationally and in New York City. So why in the world does USDA insist on maintaining its prohibition of whole milk and 2% milk? IDFA states that if all students were offered the type of milk they prefer, milk consumption might stop declining or increase. For a majority of Americans, the choice must include the whole milk option as well. Send your comment to USDA by https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 11, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) announced “overwhelming support” by parents in New York City and nationally for the inclusion of 1% flavored milk in schools. But let’s look a bit deeper.

“Voters in New York City and across the country widely support offering low-fat (1%) flavored milk in public school meals,” the IDFA press release proclaimed about the new Morning Consult national tracking poll they commissioned.

“When asked about including low-fat flavored milk in school meals, parents with kids in public schools were supportive,” the IDFA press release states. “In New York, 90% of voters with kids in public school support including low-fat flavored milk in public school meals. Nationally, 85% of parents feel the same.”

But wait. Here’s the rest of the story… In the 5-part poll, parents in New York City and nationally nearly unanimously agreed that making sure meals are healthy and nutritious for children is a top or important priority.

Reading the full poll results at the link — https://www.idfa.org/resources/voter-polling-on-milk-in-school-meals-conducted-by-morning-consult, we find that nationally and in NYC, parents identified Whole and 2% milk as top choices for nutrition by a wide margin!

Nationally, a majority of parents with kids in school (78%) selected either Whole Milk or 2% reduced-fat milk as the most nutritious options for them and their families. Currently, USDA prohibits both of these choices — Whole (3.25%) and reduced fat (2%) milks — in schools.

Among the New York City school parents polled, 58% chose either Whole milk or 2% milk as most nutritious for them and their families.

Breaking this down, the national poll showed 43% believed Whole milk options to be the most nutritious for them and their families, while 34% of NYC parents chose Whole milk as most nutritious.

Nationally, 35% of parents believe 2% milk to be most nutritious, while among NYC parents that figure was 24%.

This means Whole and 2%, together, got the majority votes for NYC parents, and parents nationally.

How did fat-free and 1% low-fat milk rate above parents in the question about “most nutritious options”?

Of the parents polled nationally, 11% selected 1% low-fat milk and that figure was 12% in NYC.

The percentage of polled parents believing fat-free milk options were most nutritious was 7% nationally and 12% in NYC.

Author’s Note:

Schools should be allowed to offer children the preferred choices of parents by expanding offerings to include whole milk and 2% milk options!

Parents and other health advocates for children and teens know the powerhouse package that REAL WHOLE MILK delivers, and the benefits of milkfat in a healthy diet. But most parents still don’t know the federal government prohibits their kids from having this choice at school.

Bottomline: students (and their parents) should be able to CHOOSE whole milk for childhood nutrition at school. Read some of the big reasons why here: https://www.97milk.com/wp-content/uploads/Why-Whole-Milk.pdf

Send your comments asking USDA to end the whole milk prohibition by deadline of March 24, 2022 at this Federal Register rulemaking docket. https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936

Just keep it simple: Write who you are, why you care, and simply ask USDA to end the prohibition of whole milk in schools so children can choose the milk they love and that way consume it instead of discarding it, therefore receiving the 13 essential nutrients of concern, high quality protein, and other benefits we assume they are getting to be healthy, satisfied, and ready to learn.

Also, contact your Representative in Congress and ask him or her to cosponsor HR 1861, The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which is up slightly at 89 cosponsors from 31 states. This bill still has zero representation from the New England States as well as no Representatives yet from Delaware, South Carolina, West Virginia, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.

No matter where you are located, ask your member of Congress to sign on as a cosponsor! This is a bipartisan bill for a bipartisan issue that benefits children and farmers — Win. Win.

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PA State Rep. John Lawrence champions three dairy bills

“We have to get real. I want to drink fresh Pennsylvania milk. It’s long past time to stand up for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are producing it,” said Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence. He told the 300 dairy farmers attending Sensenig’s Feed Mill’s dairy conference about his package of three bills, including HB 2397, the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act.

‘It’s time to take a stand for our dairy farmers’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 11, 2022

EAST EARL, Pa. – Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th) has been working on behalf of dairy farmers in what has

seemed like the wilderness in the past decade — representing Chester County and part of Lancaster County. He’s glad to see, in recent years, more of his colleagues are recognizing the situation.

“Pennsylvania dairy farmers are struggling, and we have a decision to make if we want to drink milk produced on Pennsylvania farms,” he said, speaking to farmers attending the customer appreciation dairy conference and luncheon of Sensenig’s Feed Mill. The event drew around 300 to Shady Maple in eastern Lancaster County in early March.

Lawrence has a slate of three bills in the State House — HB 223 would provide tax incentives for dairy processing in the Commonwealth; HB 224 would provide authority to the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) to make changes to account for where all of the state-mandated over-order premium goes, which is paid by Pennsylvania consumers on every gallon of milk they buy; and HB 2397 is the new bill he is introducing to be intentional about allowing whole milk in Pennsylvania schools.

The latter is numbered 2397 for a reason, he said. The last two digits of the bill number, 97, coincide with the popular and progressive grassroots 97 Milk education effort, sharing the benefits and facts about whole milk and dairy, virtually 97% fat free.

“Whole milk was outlawed 10 years ago by the federal government. This is towards the top of what I would call the ‘ludicrous list,’” Lawrence said.

Tired of waiting for the federal government to act to correct this situation for schoolchildren and for farmers, Lawrence says the idea for how to approach it at the state level came to him two months ago. It just occurred to him as he thought about the dilemma. 

In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration — the inspiration to approach the bill from the state’s rights aspect of the U.S. Constitution.

“We have jurisdiction on this,” Lawrence explained. 

When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students.

That’s the gist of it. 

The federal government lays claim to interstate commerce, but if a school’s milk is supplied strictly through intrastate commerce (within-state commerce), then the milk offered to students comes under state jurisdiction, and the state can allow whole milk, according to Lawrence.

He said the bill is enjoying broad bipartisan support in the House and will be introduced officially very soon.

“We have a robust dairy industry in our Commonwealth. Pennsylvania milk delivered to Pennsylvania plants and offered for sale to Pennsylvania students paid for by state or local funds is intrastate commerce. Who regulates that? We do. The state does. So, the federal government has no say,” Lawrence related.

Under those conditions, “if a school wants to buy Pennsylvania whole milk, then they would have every right to do that and offer it to students,” Lawrence said. “If the federal government would try to withhold other funding from those schools because of it, then we go after them.”

Lawrence is counting on broad support in the State Assembly for the measure. By the amount of feedback he is getting from colleagues, organizations, schools and others, he believes it will pass.

“It’s time to take a stand for our dairy farmers,” he said. “We have lost a generation of milk drinkers getting skim milk and throwing it in the trash.” This bill — HB 2397 — would give Pennsylvania schools the opportunity to offer whole milk and it would support Pennsylvania’s dairy farms and processors at the same time.

As for HB 224 dealing with the PMMB over-order premium, Lawrence said it addresses transparency and accountability. 

“Right now, every gallon of milk sold in Pennsylvania is assessed the over-order premium,” he said. “Pennsylvania consumers are paying this in the price of their milk. That money should all be coming back to you, the Pennsylvania farmers. This bill would account for that.”

He noted that this bill is also finding broad bipartisan support.

HB 223 is the third bill, and straightforward. Lawrence patterned it off the Keystone Opportunity Zones, using the tax credit idea for attracting new businesses and jobs to the Commonwealth. 

“In this case it’s focused on dairy,” he said.

This bill would make those tax credits available to new processing on a large or small scale, including expansion of existing facilities and even on-farm processing.

The stipulation is the entity receiving the tax credits must source 75% of their milk supply to Pennsylvania farms.

“This way we create markets for dairy farms in the Commonwealth. We have to keep our farmers alive because we also have to eat,” Lawrence stated matter-of-factly. “We have to stop taking it for granted.

“We have a choice to make about where we will lay our priorities. We have to get real. I want to drink fresh Pennsylvania milk,” he said. “It’s long past time to stand up for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are producing it.” -30-

Advocating strongly for the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act are (l-r) Bernie Morrissey, Ken Sensenig, Representative John Lawrence, Mike Sensenig, Devin Shirk and Kyle Sensenig. 

Rep. Lawrence to introduce bill for Whole Milk in PA Schools

Rep. John Lawrence (right) talked about the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act, which will soon be formally introduced in the State House. He was joined by (l-r) Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, Nelson Troutman, 97 Milk Baleboard originator, Kelly Bliss, Huntingdon Co. Dairy Princess, and Crystal Bomgardner, Pa. Alternate Dairy Princess from Lebanon Co. Photo credit: Linda Gilbert

Dairy farmers hear ‘whole’ story: The 97 Milk effort and Pa. State Rep. Lawrence’s new bill

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Feb. 25, 2022

BERRYSBURG, Pa. — A bill will soon be introduced in the Pennsylvania State House that would allow Pennsylvania schools to offer the choice of whole milk. The author of the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act is Rep. John Lawrence. He circulated a cosponsors letter a few weeks ago.

On Monday, Feb. 21, Lawrence talked about House Bill 2397 at an annual dairy day here at the Berrysburg Community Center in Dauphin County, Pa. The event, attended by over 100 producers and 30 vendors, was hosted by Great Creatures Veterinary Service as a customer appreciation luncheon and workshop.

Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman — initiator of the ‘Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free Baleboards’ — was invited by veterinarian Dr. Joy Lenker to talk about the bale art and the progress of the whole milk education movement.

Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, joined Troutman during his presentation, and they introduced Rep. Lawrence to share the good news about the Pennsylvania whole milk bill.

Lawrence, who represents parts of Lancaster and Chester counties, said he expects to officially introduce the bill with prime cosponsor Clint Owlett, representing Tioga County, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly returns to session in Harrisburg in a few weeks.

During a recent Farmshine phone interview, Lawrence confirmed that his cosponsor memo generated “good support” among colleagues and supportive responses from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, several other farm organizations, some schools, and most importantly, from dairy farmers, who tell him they are “very grateful.”

Lawrence is concerned about dairy farmers across the state. He has been advocating for them for many years in the General Assembly. He has proposed several bills in the past on other issues related to the PMMB, over order premium distribution, and milk check transparency. Some that passed the House, did not get considered by the Senate before expiring.

“We have had some wins and some setbacks over the years,” said Lawrence. “But this whole milk bill is something I believe will get done. I think there is a lot of support for it and a lot of truth to what the farmers say — that they are losing a whole generation of milk drinkers. There are schools in Pennsylvania that want to provide this choice of whole milk for the kids.”

Lawrence said the bill is structured to deal with this as a state-level issue.

“We want the federal government to address this, to end their prohibition of whole milk in schools, but it has been quite a while now, and they are not addressing it… So we are going to see if we can address it for Pennsylvania,” he affirmed, adding that more details about the bill will be forthcoming when it is formally introduced.

In his cosponsor letter, Lawrence wrote that “due to federal regulations enacted under the Obama Administration, whole (3.25 %) and reduced fat (2%) milk are not served in schools today. Speak with any school cafeteria worker, and they will tell you students are not fans of skim milk. Speak with any dairy farmer in Pennsylvania, and they will tell you that this ill-fated federal directive of removing whole milk from schools is a top concern.”

He also cited studies about the amount of milk wasted at school.

In fact, the federal government did a before-and-after study comparing plate waste in 2011 vs. 2013 to gauge their 2012 ‘nutrition standards’ that reduced the allowable fat content in milk to fat-free or 1%, even for a la carte competing beverage options. This early USDA study showed an immediate 24% reduction in students selecting milk at school and a 22% increase in discarded milk among students who were served the required skimmed milks. 

Subsequent studies show the situation has only worsened over the past decade.

Lawrence’s cosponsor letter explains the mechanics of the state’s interest under the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The memo states: “In the near future, we will introduce the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act. This legislation will ensure Pennsylvania students, at Pennsylvania schools, have the option to consume Pennsylvania whole and two percent reduced fat milk paid for with Pennsylvania tax dollars.”

Morrissey said this is welcome news for dairy farmers and the state’s dairy industry, not to mention for the schoolchildren.

He and Troutman were glad to be able to share the good news at the dairy day in Berrysburg.

Troutman showed the Channel 39 public television news video that aired two years ago featuring Troutman and Jackie Behr, marketing manager for the 97 Milk effort, as they explained how the movement got started and what was being accomplished at the start.

He updated attendees to where things are today as 97 Milk celebrated the start of its fourth year this month.

“There is so much to say, but we kept it light,” said Troutman in a phone interview. “I told them about the Pennsylvania Senate hearing back in June, how our committee testified about bringing back the choice of whole milk in schools. Senator Scavello (representing Monroe and Northampton counties) really liked the information on the 6 x 6 card Jackie Behr put together, telling what whole milk provides. I gave him one before the hearing, and he read it two times to be sure it was in the record.”

Troutman confessed he had no idea his painted round bale would lead to a milk education effort with a website, 97milk.com bringing increasing numbers of daily traffic, and social media platforms with monthly average reach of over 300,000 people, as well as some individual posts showing data reaching one million people. He thanks Behr and the 97 Milk board for that, and he thanks Farmshine for telling the story, so other farmers could get involved and bring their ideas.

“It is a team effort,” Troutman confirmed. This teamwork is helping get more cosponsors for the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in Washington. The bipartisan bill was introduced in March 2021 by Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY). It currently stands at 88 cosponsors from 31 states.

The teamwork also led to a 30,000-signature petition, multiple comment drives in USDA rulemaking, speaking engagements with ag and non-ag service groups, and a Pennsylvania school trial demonstrating a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had the option of whole milk, with post-trial surveys showing whole milk was preferred 3 to 1 over low-fat 1% milk.

“I am a positive person, but after that Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon three years ago, seeing we didn’t get anywhere on some things, I went home feeling like I lost my best cow. That’s the best I can describe it. I thought that listening session was going to break things open, but it didn’t,” Troutman told fellow farmers Monday. “I thought I had to do something, anything, so I painted a bale, and yes, well, this is what happened.”

He observed that one of the biggest things is how this movement is energizing dairy farmers, and agribusiness partners are joining in. There’s a renewed purpose.

“This opened people’s eyes. We finally have a way to promote whole milk, and that is spreading to other states, and we even hear from people in other countries,” Troutman said.

“It’s positive news. We need positive news, and the consumers, they want positive news too. They want to know about milk. We didn’t have a way to promote whole milk… until now. We lost a generation of milk drinkers, and we have to make up for that,” said Troutman. “I saw ADANE just did a webinar on whole fat dairy and mentioned the New Jersey Academy of Pediatrics and Nutrition. I didn’t get to watch it, but this is icing on the cake. We have to keep this going because we are finally starting to get somewhere, in the right direction.”

Nelson Troutman talks about the whole milk education effort and  97milk.com   Photo submitted

Comments due March 24: Ask USDA to end its prohibition of whole milk in schools, give students milkfat choice

Photo credit (Top) USDA FNS website screen capture from https://www.fns.usda.gov/building-back-better-school-meals and (bottom) fat-free flavored milk and fat-free yogurt on a local school lunch tray.
Screen capture and lunch tray photo S.Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, published Farmshine, Feb. 18, 2022

WASHINGTON — As reported in the Feb. 11 Farmshine, USDA announced a ‘transitional standards’ rule on Feb. 4 for milk, whole grains, and sodium for school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. 

The transitional standards are only in place while USDA works with stakeholders on long-term meal standards through a new rulemaking. 

The proposed rule for the longer-term is expected to come from USDA in fall 2022 and will become effective in school year 2024-25. It will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, but USDA says it is conducting a public comment and review process related to the standards and to the “gradual implementation” plan it will develop based in part on stakeholder input. 

In the official transitional standards rule, USDA notes that full implementation of its 2012 meal pattern requirements for milk, grains and sodium have been delayed at intervals due to legislative and administrative actions. “Through multiple annual appropriations bills, Congress directed USDA to provide flexibility for these specific requirements.” 

Read the transitional standards rule here at https://www.regulations.gov/document/FNS-2020-0038-2936 where a comment button can be clicked to provide a public comment to USDA by March 24, 2022.

Now is the time to comment before March 24, 2022 and to call for an end to the prohibition of whole milk in schools. Request that USDA restore the choice of whole milk in schools by commenting at the online rulemaking portal https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936

Comments and questions can also be sent to: Tina Namian, Chief, School Programs Branch, Policy and Program Development Division—4th Floor, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: 703-305-2590. 
Include FNS-2020-0038-2936 in your correspondence. 

In a rare move Feb. 7, the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA) made a public media statement on the transitional standards — pointing out their concern that the long-term standards will be ‘more stringent’ due to the restrictive Dietary Guidelines that were approved by USDA and HHS in 2020. 

The Association of School Superintendents stated: “It is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.” 

Agreed! This applies to the milk also. Students miss out on 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, complete high quality protein, a healthy matrix of fat and several nutrients of concern when they don’t actually consume the milk offered or served at school. Those nutrients ‘on paper’ are then not realized. Many key nutrients of concern are also fat-soluble. A study at St. Michael’s Children Hospital, Toronto, showed children consuming whole milk had 2.5 to 3x the Vit. D absorption compared with those consuming low-fat milk, and they were at 40% less risk of becoming overweight! Details were presented in a June 2021 hearing in the Pennsylvania Senate, listen here

Milk consumption plummeted and waste skyrocketed since USDA’s 2012 fat-free/low-fat milk rules were set for both ‘served’ milk and competing a la carte offerings. Studies by USDA and others show milk is now one of the most discarded items at school. In fact, USDA did a plate waste study comparing 2011 to 2013 (pre-/ and post-change) They focused on fruits and vegetables, but saw milk decrease significantly, waiving it off as though it were due to an “unrelated policy change.” Technically, it was the smart snacks rules for beverages and it WAS related to the 2012 standards as both were implemented together.

See the losses in Tables 2 through 4 below in ‘selection’ and ‘consumption’ of milk from the USDA study reflecting a 24% reduction in student selection of milk (offer vs. serve) after the 2012 fat-free/low-fat implementation and 10 to 12% reduction in consumption among those students being ‘served’ or selecting the restricted fat-free/low-fat white milk option or fat-free flavored milk option. That’s a double whammy for childhood nutrition and for dairy farm viability. Since 2012, at least one generation of future milk drinkers has been lost.

Charts above are from a USDA study published in 2015 to assess school meal selection, consumption, and waste before and after implementation of the new school meal standards in 2012. Those standards impacted a la carte offerings as well as beverages, not just served meals. The method for the USDA study was: Plate waste data were collected in four schools in an urban, low-income school district. Logistic regression and mixed-model ANOVA were used to estimate the differences in selection and consumption of school meals before (fall 2011) and after implementation (fall 2012) of the new standards among 1030 elementary and middle school children. Analyses were conducted in 2013. The authors note that prior to the full implementation of new nutrition standards in 2012, a variety of fat levels of milk were offered to students and no restriction upon flavored milks. See the report here —– Additionally, a PA school trial offering all fat percentages, including whole milk, revealed a 52% increase in selection of milk and 95% reduction in discarded milk, netting a 65% increase in consumption of milk in 2019.

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What does USDA’s ‘transitional’ standard on school milk REALLY mean?

USDA announced a ‘transitional standards’ rule on Feb. 4 for milk, whole grains, and sodium for school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. In short, the transitional standards are only in place while USDA works with stakeholders to strengthen meal standards through a new rulemaking for the longer term. The proposed rule for the longer-term is expected in fall 2022 and will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 — effective school year 2024-2025. A “gradual implementation” plan for the long-term standards will be developed by USDA based on ‘stakeholder input.’ Read the transitional standards rule and comment here. Stay tuned for proposed long-term standards rule and comment period this fall. Even the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA) made a statement this week, believing the long-term standards will be ‘more stringent’ due to the Dietary Guidelines, and that “it is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.” That goes for the milk also. Milk consumption plummeted and waste skyrocketed since USDA’s 2012 fat-free/low-fat milk rules were set for both ‘served’ milk and competing a la carte offerings.

By Sherry Bunting, Updated (above) since published in Farmshine, Feb. 11, 2022

WASHINGTON — USDA announced ‘transitional’ nutrition standards on Friday, Feb. 4 that put low-fat 1% flavored milk back on the menu next school year, without the cumbersome waiver process. The announcement also delays the planned sodium reductions, helping the cheese side of school lunches. 

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) came out with hearty applause for the news, thanking Congressmen G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), author of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), author of the School Milk Nutrition Act, for their leadership on this issue through the years, using words that treat this USDA announcement as though it’s a done-deal, and all is good to go. 

But let’s hold our horses and examine the USDA announcement — described clearly as “transitional” based on schools “needing more time to adjust” post-pandemic. 

USDA stated that future nutrition standards will be proposed in the fall of 2022 as part of the administration’s “Build Back Better with School Meals, input will be gathered, and those will be the standards that go into place beginning with the 2024-25 school year. 

USDA also made it clear that these future long-term standards “will line up with the Dietary Guidelines” and input from schools and industry will be sought in “how to gradually implement them.”

In 2010, the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of Congress tied government food and nutrition programs, like school lunch, to the Dietary Guidelines. By 2012, under President Obama’s USDA — with Tom Vilsack at the helm then as now — had banned whole milk as an a la carte offering in the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules. At the same time, the Department required flavored milk to only be offered if it was fat-free and required unflavored milk to be either fat-free or low-fat 1%.

Milk sales plummeted and waste increased.

Then, the Trump-USDA in 2018, under Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, “rolled back” some of the 2012 USDA standards, delaying the sodium rules and allowing low-fat 1% flavored milk to be offered through a waiver system at the state level. Some states, like Pennsylvania, made blanket waivers available, and many schools began offering low-fat 1% flavored milk over the next few years.

Then, a lawsuit took the Trump-era USDA to court for the rollbacks. The court ruled that the Trump-USDA did not use a proper public comment process before doing the rollbacks. So, beginning with the 2021-22 school year, the low-fat 1% flavored milk was again bumped out of school menus — except where waivers were sometimes granted for pandemic-related supply disruptions as justification for serving a higher fat milk.

Over the past year, USDA Food Nutrition Services has received comments about how to gradually implement nutrition standards to line up with the Dietary Guidelines on sodium, whole grains, and milkfat. Friday’s announcement on ‘transitional standards’ was accompanied by a detailed and lengthy rule that will be implemented July 1, 2022.

“USDA is giving schools time to transition from current, pandemic operations, toward more nutritious meals. In 2022, USDA will continue to prioritize supporting schools as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic and related operational issues,” the announcement said, adding that USDA “is also planning for the future by engaging with school meal stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards beginning in school year 2024-2025 that will be achievable.”

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was quoted in the announcement blaming the pandemic disruptions of the past two years for making schools “unprepared to fully meet those standards at this time” for milk, whole grains and sodium.

“These transitional standards are step one of a longer-term strategy to lean into the school meal programs as a crucial part of improving child health,” said Vilsack.

“Over the coming months and years, USDA will work closely with its school meal partners to develop the next iteration of nutrition requirements. We’ve got to find the right balance between standards that give our kids the best chance at a healthy future based on the latest nutrition science, and ensuring those standards are practical, built to last, and work for everyone,” Vilsack added.

The purpose of the “transitional” standards, according to the USDA announcement, is to “give schools clarity for the coming school years, allowing them to gradually transition from the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic to normal program operations and meal standards that are consistent with the latest nutrition science, as required by law.”

Specifically, the transitional standards beginning with the 2022-23 school year are as follows:

1) Milk: Schools and childcare providers serving participants ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk;

2) Whole Grains: At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grain-rich; and

3) Sodium: The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level in SY 2022-2023. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in SY 2023-2024. (This affects school cheese).

The expressed linkage of long-term USDA nutrition standards to the anti-fat 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was mentioned throughout the USDA announcement, giving an indication of where the school milk standards are headed, long-term.

That is, unless Congress acts to remove all doubt and make fuller fat milk — whole milk — a legal option for schools in the future.

For a true solution for the long-term, Congressional leadership is needed on the school milk issue.

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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The long and the short of it

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

By Sherry Bunting

Good morning Honorable Chairman Scavello and Senate Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify on whole milk choice in schools. My name is Sherry Bunting. As an ag journalist 40 years and former Eastern Lancaster County School Board member 8 years, not to mention as a mother and a nana, I see this from many sides.

From the dairy side, fluid milk sales had their steepest decline over the past decade as seen in the chart (above) with my written statement. There was a decline slowly before that, but you can see the drop off after 2010.

That was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Two years prior, the national dairy checkoff, which farmers must pay into, signed a memorandum of understanding with USDA to advance the department’s Dietary Guidelines using the checkoff’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program in schools — promoting only fat-free and low-fat dairy.

(Note: This was confirmed in a May 2021 dairy checkoff press conference, stating that “DMI has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition in 2008,” and that Gen Z is the generation DMI has been working on since the launch of Fuel Up to Play 60, which was followed by the formation of GENYOUth and the signing of the memorandum of understanding, MOU, with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in that 2008-10 time period.)

By 2011, USDA had their data showing schools that voluntarily gave up whole and 2% milk were meeting the Department’s Dietary Guidelines more consistently — on paper — as far as fat content across the ‘served’ meals and the ‘a la carte’ offerings, combined.

With this data, USDA targeted whole and 2% milk, specifically, for mandatory removal from school grounds during school hours by 2012.

In fact, the ‘competing foods’ regulatory language at the time stated that even if you wanted to have a vending machine (with whole milk) as a fundraiser for FFA, it could only be open for two weeks for the fundraiser, maybe three. The rest of the time it had to be closed between the hours of midnight before the start of the school day and 30 minutes after the end of the school day.

This is how we are treating whole milk.

That looked good on paper, but the reality? Since 2008, the rate of overweight and diabetes has climbed fastest among teens and children after a decade of stipulations that you can only have whole milk until you’re 2 years old — and in the poorest demographics, who rely the most on school lunch and breakfast. This fact was acknowledged during a U.S. Senate Ag hearing on Childhood Nutrition in 2019, where senators even referenced a letter from 750 retired Generals sounding the alarm that young adults are too overweight to serve.

This is a federal and state issue, and I might add, a national security issue. Our state has an interest in the outcomes.

An example…

While Pennsylvania school doors are closed to whole milk — a fresh product most likely to be sourced from Pennsylvania farms — their doors are wide open to processed drinks profiting large global beverage and foodservice companies.

What the kids buy after throwing away the skimmed milk does not come close, as you’ve heard, to offering the minerals, vitamins and 8 grams of complete protein in a cup of whole milk. What’s on paper is not being realized by growing bodies, brains and immune systems. Not to mention the milkfat satiates and helps with absorption of some of those nutrients. A wise foodservice director who saw this coming told me in the late 1990s, while I was serving on the School Board, he said: “when too much fat is removed from a child’s diet, sugar craving and intake increase.” Some of the latest data show he was right.

School milk sales are 6 to 8% of total U.S. fluid milk sales. However, this represents, as you’ve heard, the loss of a whole generation of milk drinkers in one decade.

The Northeast Council of Farmer Cooperatives looked at school milk sales from 2013 through 2016 and reported that 288 million fewer half pints of milk were sold in schools during that period. This does not include half-pints that students were served but then discarded.

This situation impacts Pennsylvania’s milk market, farm-level milk price, and future viability — a factor in Pennsylvania losing 1,974 farms; 75,000 cows and 1.8 billion in production since 2009 – rippling through other businesses, ag infrastructure, revenue and jobs. We are, actually now, 8th in milk production in the U.S. If you go back 15 years, we were 4th. As of last year, we were passed by Minnesota.

The fat free / low fat push devalues milkfat as a component of the price paid to farms, making it a cheaper ingredient for other products. Our kids can have whole milk. There is no shortage of milk fat because if there was, producers would be paid a fairer price that reflected its value.

While the flaws in the Dietary Guidelines process would take a whole hearing in itself, Pennsylvania consumers see the benefits of milk fat in study after study and are choosing whole milk for their families. Redner’s Warehouse Markets, for example, reported to me their whole milk sales volumes are up 14.5%. Nationally, whole milk sales surpassed all other categories in 2019 for the first time in decades. So parents are choosing whole milk, and we saw that during Covid, and even before Covid.

Today, children receive one or two meals at school, and there’s a bill actually being considered by Congress to make three meals and a snack universal at school. Then what?

Many parents don’t even know that whole milk choice is prohibited. Even the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, during a listening session on various issues, had a request brought up to legalize whole milk in schools. Three of the senators expressed their shock. One asked the person testifying — who is both a dairy farmer and an attorney — how could this be true? They thought she was joking.

(In fact, skepticism prompted Politifact to investigate. They confirmed, indeed, Lorraine Lewandrowski’s statement — “Make it legal for a New York state student to have a glass of fresh whole milk, a beautiful food from a beautiful land” — received the completely true rating on Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter because, yes, there is a federal prohibition of whole milk in schools.)

There’s just not enough people understanding that this is happening. Many people think the kids do have the choice, but they don’t.

My petition, that I started in late 2019, has nearly 25,000 signatures online. The links are with my written statement — and 5000 were mailed to me by snail-mail — so over 30,000 total. Nearly half of those are from Pennsylvania, and New York would be second as far as signatures, but we have signatures from every state in the nation.

When I looked through to vet it, to balance it and make sure we didn’t have people from other countries in these numbers, I started to see who was signing, from all walks of life — from farmers, to parents, to teachers, doctors, and on and on. Even state lawmakers, I recognized some names on there. The whole milk choice petition has opened eyes.

Thank you for this hearing, and please help bring the choice of whole milk back to our schools. Our children and dairy farmers are counting on us.

If I could just have a couple more seconds here, this is personal for me, as a grandmother. One of my grandchildren is lactose intolerant, or I should say, that’s how it would seem, but she has no trouble drinking whole milk at home. Her doctor says she may be lactose intolerant because she keeps coming home from school and having stomach problems at the end of the day. She now is not drinking the milk at school, just drinking whole milk at home. She can’t drink the skimmed milk, and there’s really some science behind that.

A professor in North Carolina (Richard C. Theuer, Ph.D.) mentioned this role of milk fat actually slowing the rate of carbohydrate absorption — which is the lactose. (As a member of the National Society for Nutrition and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, Theuer addressed this in at least two public comments on the Dietary Guidelines Federal Register docket, once in 2018 and then again in 2019.)

I’ll end my comment here, sorry I went a little over.

— At the conclusion of my time, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman Mario Scavello said this was a good place for me to end my testimony because “what we’ve heard here today is children are not drinking the skim milk and the low-fat milk. We’ve got to get this corrected, the more I listen to this,” he said. Then, turning to Nelson Troutman on the panel in regard to the 97 Milk education effort, Scavello added: “By the way, I did see that 97 percent bale. Thank you for explaining it because I thought, what is this about? I could see the bales while driving on I-80.”

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