Global Symposium: Milky Way Study reinforces why children should be allowed to choose whole milk

Therese O’Sullivan, professor of nutrition and dietetics at Edith Cowan University in western Australia shared results from the Milky Way Study, answering the question: “Should our children be consuming reduced fat or whole fat dairy products?” The short answer, according to the evidence: “Let them choose!” IDF Symposium screen capture

Other countries are taking note, when will the U.S. get it right?

By Sherry Bunting

BRUSSELS — A new double-blind randomized study of children consuming whole fat vs. low fat milk and dairy reinforces the already accumulated evidence that the choice should be allowed, especially for children, according to Professor Therese O’Sullivan in nutrition and dietetics at the Edith Cowan University in western Australia.

“The Milky Way Study suggests healthy children can safely consume whole fat dairy without concern. Future dietary guidelines can and should recommend either whole or reduced fat dairy,” O’Sullivan confirmed as she presented the study’s results during the Nutrition and Health Symposium organized by the International Dairy Federation in Brussels, Belgium last Thursday (May 12).

The virtual event was attended by over 200 nutrition and health professionals from all over the world. They heard from eight experts and two moderators from various regions of the world, focusing on the role dairy plays across life stages. The first five sessions of the daylong event focused on the role of dairy in maternal diets and for children and teens. The last half focused on aging adults.

The Milky Way Study is deemed the first ‘direct dairy intervention’ study, and it supports the already accumulating evidence that children should be able to choose whole fat milk and dairy as there is no scientific or health reason not to let them choose, O’Sullivan indicated.

The study was costly and time intensive as a double-blind randomized intervention in which the whole fat dairy group consumed more milkfat during the study than their normal consumption had been before the study, and the low fat dairy group consumed less.

Continual testing during the study period showed no statistical differences in key health and nutrition biomarkers except the whole fat milk group’s BMI percentile declined during the study period. This is a key result because this is the first “intervention” study to test “causation” in what the already accumulated evidence shows.

The push by dietary guidelines to limit milkfat in countries like the U.S. and Australia was mentioned during panel discussion in relation to the Milky Way Study, supporting studies, and meta-analysis, with experts noting these guidelines need revisited.

“There is no evidence to suggest that moving to low fat dairy helps,” O’Sullivan said, noting there were no significant differences between the whole fat and low fat study groups when it came to the children’s daily caloric intake, blood pressures, blood cholesterol and lipids, cardiometabolic disease — or any other measure.

However, O’Sullivan did observe a slight trend toward a reduction in BMI (body mass index) percentile in the study group consuming whole fat milk and dairy vs. low-fat milk and dairy.

As the primary researcher on the Milky Way Study, O’Sullivan found it interesting that the daily calorie intakes of both groups were equal, even though the group of children consuming whole fat milk and dairy were getting more calories in their dairy servings because the fat was left in.

“This showed us that as the calories came out of milk in the low fat group, the kids replaced those calories with something else,” O’Sullivan reported.

The sodium intakes were also higher in the low-fat milk group, suggesting the “replacement calories” came from snacks.

O’Sullivan noted that another “very interesting finding was that we didn’t see any improvement in blood lipids in the low fat group that we would expect to see based on the theory of saturated fat increasing lipids,” she said.

Bottom line, she noted: “Whole milk and dairy had a neutral or beneficial effect on cardiovascular (biomarkers) with no difference in lipids, and a small decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol) in the whole fat dairy group.”

She also observed that as the calories came out of the milk in the low fat group, the children were coming up in their consumption of other foods that – depending on their choices — could have an impact on lipid profiles.

(This basically supports the tenet that whole fat milk and dairy is satiating, satisfying, and because it is nutrient dense, children may be less likely to keep ‘searching’ for needed nutrition via salty, sweet and high-carb snacks. The Milky Way study supports what many have long said should be changed in dietary guidelines to increase and make more flexible the saturated fat limits and return the choice of whole fat milk and dairy to schools and daycare centers.)

“High fat dairy foods are not detrimentally affecting adults, children or adolescents,” said O’Sullivan in discussing supporting research and meta-analysis. She noted that her three-month Milky Way Study could be repeated for 12 months for more data, but that it is in line with other evidence.

During the panel discussion, nutrition experts talked about some of the issues in vegan / vegetarian dietary patterns, noting that even when given vitamin and mineral supplements, studies show children and teens could not get their levels where they needed to be in many cases, especially true for B12 and calcium, key nutrients found in milk.

One attendee asked why saturated fats are always ‘the bad guys’ in the dietary guidelines, wondering if there was any associated health risk effect in going from the whole fat to the low fat in the first place.

“Similar to other studies, we saw the kids were good at regulating their food intake to appetite and as we take away the fat, they replace it with something else for the calories to be the same,” O’Sullivan replied. “In one group, they ate more tortillas, in another we noticed sodium intakes went up, suggesting they ate more snack foods (when the fat was removed from the milk and dairy).”

She reminded attendees that there are also other types of fats in milk, including Omega 3 fatty acids.

“Kids do not have much Omega 3 in their diets because they are not as likely to be eating oily fish,” said O’Sullivan. “In the low fat group (in the Milky Way Study), when Omega 3 status went low, they were not replacing it.”

This means the whole fat milk group had an advantage in maintaining Omega 3 status also.

O’Sullivan explained that researchers looked at the membranes of the red blood cells and saw the long chain fats were also down, so if they stayed on that (low fat) diet, and did not have increased Omega somewhere else in the diet, “they may have a health impact down the line.”

An attendee from India noted their government is planning to introduce milk into the supplemental feeding programs for children, with milk programs in schools, beginning with elementary schools.

Increasingly, the global focus is on milk in schools, and this means the type of milk recommended by government dietary guidance is so important.

Attendees also wanted to know “How much saturated fat would be recommended daily for children?”

(In the U.S., schools, daycares and other institutional settings are required to keep calories from saturated fat below 10% of total calories of the meal with the milk included, and of the milk as a competing a la carte beverage, with no attention paid to nutrient density.)

O’Sullivan indicated the answer lies in looking more at the food source of the saturated fat and the level of nutrients accompanying it.

“We need food-focused dietary guidelines,” she said, noting the evidence shows it’s important to change the focus from ‘dietary’ saturated fat ‘levels’ to looking at “the whole food matrix, the overall matrix of the food and the nutrients when the saturated fat is contained in that matrix.”

Good nutrition is key for health and wellbeing throughout life and can help us live our lives to the fullest, said Symposium organizers. They noted that dairy products are nutrient-rich and are a source of protein, B vitamins, iodine, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, zinc and potassium – making them an excellent choice for nutritional needs at all ages and stages of life. The unique combination of nutrients and bioactive factors, and how they interact with each other in the dairy matrix, combine to produce the overall effect on health.

In fact, during panel discussion, some noted there is so much emphasis now on maternal nutrition and the first 1000 days of life, whereas not enough attention has been paid to children and teens.

“Intervention is required in the three later phases: middle childhood (5-9 years), when infection and malnutrition constrain growth; adolescent growth spurt (10-14 years) and the adolescent phase of growth, brain maturation and consolidation (15-19 years) if a child is to achieve his full potential as an adult – an important but often overlooked area being the diet”, noted Professor Seema Puri from Delhi University, India.

Professor Lisanne Du Plessis from Stellenbosch University, South Africa explained that food-based dietary guidelines are a key way to provide healthy eating guidance in every life stage. 

However, she said, only a few countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria have guidelines tailored to the specific nutritional needs of children.

In fact, this was a glaring concern in the Australian and U.S. guidelines — given the emphasis on avoiding milkfat leaving children and teens missing out on the key nutrients if they didn’t consume the required low-fat and fat-free products.

Talking about what type of milk children can and should drink seemed like a basic area of discussion that needs intervention.

“Changing to reduced-fat dairy does not result in improvements to markers of adiposity (high body mass index) or cardiometabolic disease risk in healthy children,” O’Sullivan stated.

Contrary to popular belief, she said, “there are no additional health benefits to consuming low-fat or fat-free dairy for children.”

Not only did conclusions from the Milky Way Study back this up, but also comparisons to other supporting evidence were shared.

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NYC Mayor leaves chocolate milk on school menu, ‘for now’

FARMSHINE EDITOR’S NOTE:  There is nothing simple about school milk today. Now there are three federal bills pending. One would legalize the options of whole and 2% flavored and unflavored milk in schools, one would restore just the 1% low-fat flavored milk option in schools, and now a third bill, a new one, would mandate that all schools offer at least one low-fat (1%) flavored milk option. At the state level in Pennsylvania, there’s also a whole milk in schools bill that recently passed the State House in a near-unanimous vote and is being considered by the State Senate as reported last week in Farmshine. Furthermore, a New York State Assemblyman has introduced a bill similar to the PA bill in the NY legislature. This week, however, the spotlight is on New York City schools as Mayor Eric Adams had proposed elimination of all flavored milk options.

Istock Photo (PC Yobro10)

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, April 22, 2022

NEW YORK CITY — A proposed chocolate milk ban appears to be on hold in New York City schools. The April 17 New York Post reported NYC Mayor Eric Adams has “backed off” on his system-wide chocolate milk ban, while seeking USDA’s blessing to offer non-dairy alternatives.

The article cited a letter from the mayor to USDA, noting Adams will leave the flavored milk option up to the individual NYC schools — “for now.” 

Adams, who publicly follows a ‘mostly vegan’ lifestyle, who launched Vegan-Friday in NYC schools in February, and who sought to ban flavored milk in schools during his previous tenure as Brooklyn borough president, now says he is holding off on the chocolate milk ban and is seeking more input on school food and beverage options, overall.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) applauded the news in a press release Tuesday (April 19). 

“The USDA school meal standards and the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans both support serving low-fat (1%) flavored milk in schools,” the IDFA statement reads. It also pointed out that flavored milk processed for schools today contains 50% less added sugar and fewer calories than 10 years ago, so it meets Mayor Adams’ plan for school beverages to be under 130 calories.

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also issued a statement thanking in particular U.S. Representatives Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) “for their advocacy in support of continued flexibility for schools to serve children healthy milk and dairy products that benefit their growth and development.”

Mayor Adams’ pause on the flavored milk ban came after nine of New York’s 27 members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter in March urging him not to implement the ban. The letter was initiated by U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado, a New York Democrat who is the prime cosponsor of Pennsylvania Republican Congressman G.T. Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1861. 

In the letter, the lawmakers noted that two-thirds of current school milk sales nationwide are low-fat (1%) flavored milk. In NYC, all flavored milk is currently fat-free. The lawmakers noted that the proposed flavored milk ban would go against the mayor’s stated goals of improving childhood nutrition and health.

“As members representing both rural and urban communities, we are committed to supporting the dairy farmers, producers and agriculture partners across New York, while also ensuring that children in NYC schools have access to critical, life-enhancing nutrients. Unfortunately, for many NYC families, the meals children receive in schools are their only source of many recommended nutrients,” the bipartisan letter stated.

The letter also pointed out that members of Congress from New York and across the country are supporting expanding — not restricting — the access to milk and flavored milk choices in schools. The letter mentioned the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861 with 93 cosponsors from 32 states) and the bipartisan School Milk Nutrition Act (H.R. 4635 with 44 cosponsors from 21 states). 

H.R. 1861 would end the federal prohibition of flavored and unflavored whole and 2% milk in schools. H.R. 4635 would simply restore by statute the option of low-fat 1% flavored milk so it can’t be restricted to fat-free by USDA edict.

“Both (bills) expand flavored milk options in school lunchrooms and have received support from members of the New York Congressional delegation on both sides of the aisle. We strongly urge you to continue offering children the choice of flavored milk each and every day in New York City schools,” NY members of Congress conveyed to Mayor Adams in the letter.

New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik also introduced the lastest federal school milk bill, H.R. 7070, the Protecting School Milk Choices Act. The ink isn’t even dry on this one, which has three cosponsors from Long Island, western New York State and Iowa. It would require, not simply allow, schools to offer at least one low-fat (1%) flavored milk option.

“A silent crisis is gripping our nation’s schoolchildren. In a typical school year, more than 30 million students of all ages rely on school breakfast and lunch for their daily recommended intake of critical nutrients,” wrote Keith Ayoob in an April 11 New York Daily News editorial. The associate professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx served over 30 years as director of the nutrition clinic for the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center. 

“As a clinician working with mostlylow-income, minority families for more than 30 years, I’ve taken thousands of dietary histories on children. I can tell you that for many, a school meal is by far the healthiest meal they will consume on any given day. For some kids, sadly, these are their only meals,” Ayoob stated.

He reported that more than 60% of children and teens are not meeting their needs for calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are three of four ‘nutrients of concern,’ and that eliminating flavored milk from NYC school meals would cause childhood nutrition to further deteriorate. 

Yes, children should not eat excess added sugar, wrote Ayoob, but “small amounts can be useful… to drive the consumption of nutrient-rich and under-consumed foods.” He cited flavored milk and yogurt as two examples of how to beneficially “spend the few added sugar calories.”

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 has long upheld milk’s unique nutritional package, allowing substitution only if it is “nutritionally equivalent to fluid milk and meets nutritional standards established by the Secretary, which shall, among other requirements, include fortification of calcium, protein, vitamin A and vitamin D to levels found in cow’s milk for students who cannot consume fluid milk because of a medical or other special dietary need…” 

In addition, there is a section of this law that prohibits restriction of milk sales in schools. It states: “A school that participates in the school lunch program under this Act shall not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk products by the school (or by a person approved by the school) at any time or any place — (i) on the school premises; or (ii) at any school-sponsored event.”

In its press release thanking parents, physicians, dieticians and members of Congress for speaking up, IDFA cited the results of a Morning Consult survey it had commissioned. 

The survey found 90% of New York City voters with children in public schools and 85% of parents nationwide supported offering the option of low-fat (1%) flavored milk in school meals. This means parents don’t want a ban on flavored milk, and they don’t want their children’s flavored milk choices restricted to fat-free.

As reported in the March 11 Farmshine, this survey also found that 58% of NYC parents and 78% of parents nationwide selected as most nutritious the whole milk and reduced-fat (2%) milk options that are currently prohibited in schools by the federal government, whereas only 24% of NYC parents and 18% of parents nationwide selected the low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk options that are currently allowed in schools. 

In fact, when asked what milk they “selected” as “most nutritious for them and their families,” the top pick of parents was whole milk at 34% of NYC parents and 43% nationwide; followed by reduced-fat (2%) milk at 24% and 35%; low-fat (1%) milk at 12% and 11%; and fat-free milk at 12% and 7%.

Among NYC parents, 9% selected ‘other,’ and 9% were unsure or had no opinion. Among parents, nationwide, 3% selected ‘other,’ and 1% were unsure or had no opinion.

Why do parental choices matter? Because children consume two out of three meals a day at school for a majority of the year.

How did we get here?

The Congress under a Democrat majority in 2010 passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that called for aligning government feeding programs, like school lunch, even more closely to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). 

Then, in 2012, the Obama-Vilsack USDA promulgated rules to outright ban whole and 2% reduced-fat unflavored and flavored milk as well as 1% low-fat flavored milk as “competing beverages” across all schools. USDA documents note that this move was based on information from an industry school wellness program that had touted three-a-day fat-free and low-fat dairy, reporting those schools that had voluntarily restricted the higher fat milk options were doing better in meeting the constraints of the Dietary Guidelines. 

Never mind the fact that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory committees admit their espoused fat-restrictive dietary patterns leave all age groups deficient in key nutrients of concern. 

During the first school year of the USDA whole and 2% milk prohibition (2012-13), which also saw all flavored milk restricted to fat-free status, USDA’s own study showed student selection of milk declined by 24%, and milk waste in schools increased 22% across two categories. That’s a double-whammy.

In 2017, the Trump-Perdue USDA provided regulatory flexibility to schools, allowing them to offer low-fat 1% flavored milk through a waiver process. This flexibility was reversed in 2021 by a court decision noting USDA erred by not providing adequate public comment before providing the new flexibilities on milk, sodium and whole grains. 

With the Coronavirus pandemic emerging in 2020, closing schools and creating supply chain challenges, USDA had implemented emergency flexibilities for school offerings.

Recently, the Biden-Vilsack USDA announced a transitional final rule for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. In this rule, USDA recognized that post-pandemic schools “need more time to prepare” to meet the DGAs on fat (milk), sodium and whole grains. 

According to USDA, the Department is reviewing thousands of stakeholder comments received in March 2022 and expects to release updated child nutrition program standards in July 2022, which would then become effective for the 2024-25 school year and beyond.

USDA also announced on Friday (April 15) the opening of the next 5-year Dietary Guidelines cycle with a brief 30-day public comment period ending May 16 to weigh-in on proposed scientific questions that will guide the entire 2025-30 DGA process. Stay tuned.

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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.

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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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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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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PA Ag Secretary Redding sidesteps school milk question, cites other priorities

Pa. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding sidestepped questions about school milk during State Senate budget hearings. He listed other priorities of advocacy in the “federal conversation” and cited the need for new processing for Pennsylvania’s dairy future. Screenshot photo of hearing on zoom

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 23, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. – During the Pennsylvania Senate budget hearings in April, in a question-and-answer exchange with Senator David Argall, representing Berks and Schuylkill counties, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding talked about advocating for trade agreements, pricing policies, dairy investment and nutrition in “the federal conversation.”

However, on the question of advocating to legalize whole milk choice in schools? Asked twice. Not answered.

In fact, the Secretary’s entire agriculture budget testimony included just one small paragraph about dairy — something Sen. Argall picked up on and questioned. He asked Redding what portion of overall Pennsylvania agriculture is represented by dairy, to which the Secretary replied “about 37%.”

When pushed on what the department is doing, Redding said: “I can tell you dairy is about 37% of my conversations — even though the testimony doesn’t reflect that.”

“We have made real progress in dairy and have been part of that conversation, but there is still more to do for dairy to remain viable and remain at 37%,” said Redding, citing the work of the Dairy Futures Commission, but few details.

Asked to look five to 10 years down the road, the Secretary said the dairy industry has had some “really incredible years in the last five and some incredibly bad years in the last five. It is always going to be sustainable,” he said, “but the question is: Are we going to have those good years to make up for the bad years?”

(It has been seven years since a truly good year was experienced by dairy producers.)

The Secretary pinned the hopes of the future for dairy in Pennsylvania on “getting new processing.” 

Redding stated: “We can compete on the farm. We can compete as a state. But we have to compete at the marketplace too. I remain encouraged by what we’re doing, but we have to keep pressing to make sure we get the right state and federal policies.”

However, there is one federal policy at the core of fluid milk marketing that the Secretary evaded.

Sen. Argall pointed out the 2010 federal policy that removed whole milk from schools.

“Do you see a solution to that issue, and is that really a big part of the overall problem?” the Senator asked.

“I think it is certainly a contributor, and I hear it all the time about whole milk. But what I try to encourage the dairy industry is to look at where total dairy consumption is — the 1%, the 2%, the whole milk — and can you get more cheese, get more yogurt in, can you get more dairy products into that school diet,” Redding replied.

“I think that’s probably what we have to keep our eye on,” he continued. “It’s going to take all of that product mix for us to turn this trend around of just dairy consumption generally. It’s a complicated equation. All of us need to keep pressing on the Congress to do more, to keep our trade agreements in place, and I can tell you… we’ve had some difficult (trade) steps for the last several years.”

(The last several years saw record volumes of exports. Tom Vilsack, current U.S. Ag Secretary and former U.S. Dairy Export Council president wrote in a blog post that 2018 was “a banner year for dairy exporters.” We all recall what 2018 was like for dairy farmers.)

Sec. Redding also referenced the negative PPDs on milk checks as an issue. He stated that, “The price difference between Class III and IV has cost Pennsylvania dearly, so that’s also part of the federal conversation.”

Sen. Argall picked up on the Secretary’s mention of ‘federal conversation,’ asking a second time about whole milk in schools.

“Are you working with anyone across the country to try to repeal that portion of the (federal) act that has greatly reduced the number of students (allowed) to drink whole milk in the schools?” the Senator asked.

“We have not been engaged in repeal. We have been engaged in what I mentioned earlier, about making sure that the Dietary Guidelines include dairy, and they do continue the three a day,” said Redding. “We have continued to advocate for continued investment in dairy, making sure that we do the trade (exports), making sure we have the pricing pieces.”

The Secretary went on to say; “We are advocating at a lot of different levels for dairy on the nutrition side and also the dairy investment side.”

In regard to new processing, after years of discussion, two dairy bills were passed by the House in the 2019-20 session, only to die in the Senate Ag Committee. One was a dairy keystone opportunity zones bill and the other was a bill dealing with transparency and distribution of state-mandated over-order premiums. Both bills, sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence had passed unanimously or nearly unanimously in the House last session.

During a meeting last week of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, a committee member, noted a dairy redevelopment project in his county that looked to be a sure thing, only to be dropped.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has dropped from fifth to seventh, and now eighth in the nation in dairy production.

“This has gone on as the dairy industry consolidates,” said Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer, member of the grassroots committee, chairman of National Dairy Producers Organization and executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets.

“The Secretary mentions the momentum we have from fluid milk consumption rising recently. Increased sales of whole milk are a key to that increase. Legalizing whole milk choice in schools makes sense for children and dairy farmers,” Eby explained.

“Everything is political in this. Why do we not have whole milk in schools? People have no clue how important this is for dairy farmers. We have already lost a generation of milk drinkers,” notes Dale Hoffman, a Potter County dairy producer and member of the grassroots committee having worked on this issue for several years. 

Even the Pennsylvania Dairy Futures Commission, which was referenced by Sec. Redding in his comment about “making progress,” addressed the issue of whole milk in schools. 

The Commission was established by the state assembly in 2019 and issued its lengthy report in Aug. 2020 on a broad range of dairy issues. In one area of the report, the Commission made recommendations to improve the school milk experience, specifically stating: “Federal school milk program standards should allow the flexibility to offer a choice in flavored and unflavored milk, including whole milk.”

While several key state lawmakers report they are looking for an opening to do something on this at the state level, Secretary Redding evades the question, even changing the subject when asked about whether he is advocating for this in the federal conversation.

Instead, the Secretary responded by saying the Department advocates in the federal conversation for trade agreements, pricing pieces, and on the nutrition side being satisfied to have the ‘3-a-day’ in the school diet.

Here are a few questions Pennsylvania dairy producers may want to ask Pa. Ag Secretary Redding, by contacting the Pa. Department of Agriculture at 717-787-4737.

— Why does the Secretary advocate for ‘trade’ while completely sidestepping the question about advocating for whole milk choice in schools?

— Does the Secretary support Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson’s bill H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to legalize whole milk choice in schools?

— Will the Dept. of Agriculture advocate for the health of children and the Commonwealth’s ag community by advocating for the bipartisan efforts to bring the choice of whole milk back to schools?

— In the budget hearing, Sec. Redding again identified the need for more processing in Pennsylvania. With properties up for redevelopment over the past few years in the heart of dairy areas, what is being done to encourage redevelopment projects for dairy processing?

— Given at least one such project was underway and then abandoned, what are the influences and obstacles?

The effort to legalize the choice of whole milk in schools is a federal and state issue. Public awareness has been increased over the past two years through the joint efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, including a petition that is being revitalized as the U.S. Congress and State Assembly begin a new legislative session. Graphic by Sherry Bunting

Bipartisan Whole Milk bill introduced in U.S. Congress

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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