Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania has dairy champions in Congress. Not only has Rep. Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-15th) introduced the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and made it better, Rep. John Joyce (R-13th) is getting ready to launch the House version of the Dairy Pride Act to uphold real milk’s standard of identity.
It’s “more urgent than ever” that Congress act on these bills, in light of recent USDA and FDA proposed rules, said Thompson in a Farmshine phone interview as Congress returned to session Monday (Feb. 27).
The bipartisan 2023 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1147, has been introduced for just over one week, and already the number of congressional cosponsors grows daily at 43 to-date, including prime sponsor Rep. Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania and prime cosponsor Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat and pediatrician from Washington state.
The other 41 cosponsors so far represent both sides of the aisle from 22 states.
“I’m very honored to reintroduce this whole milk legislation. We made some real progress in the 117th Congress with not quite 100 cosponsors and broad bipartisan support. That’s what it takes to get things done,” said Thompson. “But we had headwinds with the Republicans not having the majority and the Democratic party owning the demonization of milkfat and the removal of whole milk and flavor from the school system.”
What will be different this time?
Thompson explained it’s a new Congress and he has the support of the new Education and Workforce Committee chair Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina.
“She is very excited about this bill and has had me speaking on it at a number of events over the past year,” said Thompson.
In addition to being chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Thompson is also a senior member of the Education and Workforce Committee through which the Whole Milk bill must pass first.
Thompson believes it will be put on the House agenda, and he is optimistic that it will get passed off the House floor.
He is also looking for a sponsor for companion legislation in the Senate.
He said he appreciated former Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who had previously introduced a version of the bill.
“With Senator Toomey’s retirement from the Senate, we now have to find someone to take the lead in the Senate,” he said.
The fact that the number of cosponsors has grown quickly for the House bill, within the first few days, is a good sign.
This response so far has happened without Thompson “working the floor” yet.
This “speaks to the significant need that this legislation addresses,” he said.
“This bill is about providing the best nutrition for children and addressing the economic impact on rural America,” he explained. “When the Democrats did what they did in 2010 with the nutrition standards, it was a crushing blow to dairy farmers. Dairy is the number one ag commodity in my home state of Pennsylvania, and agriculture is the number one industry. This is the case not just in Pennsylvania.
“This topic comes up everywhere I go and in every state,” he added. “Part of the reason is the awareness as many people and organizations, and quite frankly the 97 Milk grassroots effort, has impacted nationally and internationally by speaking to this need.”
Thompson improved the bill with what he calls a “common sense addition.”
He acknowledged former Senator Toomey for articulating language that would allow whole and 2% milk to fit within the meal calculation for saturated fat since the milk has been included in the meal calculation since 2010.
This way, not only does the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act proclaim the permission for whole and 2% unflavored and flavored milk options in school meals, it expands the saturated fat limit to accommodate these options so school foodservice directors are empowered to actually offer them.
“Milk is the only beverage that is regulated within the meal. Meanwhile, students may have access to non-nutritious beverages with high fructose corn syrup and caffeine that are not regulated, so we’re making sure we do not have a situation where the milkfat counts against the meal,” said Thompson.
“Whole milk is only 3 to 3.5% fat compared to the low-fat milk being 1%. That means whole milk is 96.5 to 97% fat free. That extra milkfat is a positive thing in the lives of those young people,” Thompson declared, with a nod to the mountain of scientific evidence.
As the White House is moving rapidly in its proclaimed “whole of government approach” to implement the Biden-Harris Hunger, Nutrition and Health National Strategy, a flurry of bureaucratic actions could further affect milk access for children via USDA and FDA.
USDA just published proposed school nutrition rules, with comment period ending April 10, 2023, which could remove access to flavored milk in elementary and potentially middle schools, while further etching in concrete the fat-free and 1% sole options.
FDA’s healthy labeling proposed rule also presents obstacles for whole milk, and that comment period recently ended.
Plus, FDA last week issued draft guidance allowing imitation non-dairy beverages to be labeled as ‘milk’ with only a ‘voluntary’ recommendation that companies describe shortfalls in key nutrients. That public comment period ends April 24, 2023 (see related article in this week’s Farmshine).
Will the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act force revisions of any of these proposed rules?
Rep. Thompson was outspoken on this question.
“I don’t believe they have the authority to do what they are doing now,” he stated.
“These moves are an outgrowth of the White House summit that they weren’t serious about. They failed to invite Republicans, including the Ranking Member of the Ag Committee until 48 hours before the conference. They didn’t want our input. It is more political science than science, and it is really frustrating,” he related.
“It is the Congress that determines nutritional standards, not the bureacrats. While the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids bill is mostly in the Education and Workforce Committee, I will do all I can in the Ag Committee to make sure science, not political science, is foremost.
“Science shows whole milk and whole milk with flavor added, are the most nutritious beverage available,” said Thompson.
On the FDA draft guidance for labeling fake-milk alternatives as ‘milk’, Thompson was even more blunt.
“The Dairy Pride Act is being reintroduced by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA). This bill is more important than ever given the insane draft guidance of the Biden-FDA. It is urgent to pass this one also,” said Thompson, confirming later that the Dairy Pride Act, which was introduced in the Senate this week will also be introduced in the House shortly by Rep. Joyce, along with a bipartisan cosponsor.
Thompson lamented the bombardment of parents and kids with marketing for alternative fake-milk beverages that are proliferating rapidly.
“I have a lot of friends among almond growers and soybean growers, and I like almonds, but this is about truth in advertising. The word ‘milk’ communicates a certain level of nutrition, and FDA has even acknowledged this. If FDA is going to mislead people by allowing the labeling of something as milk that is not milk, then they should be required to truly define the differences,” he said, adding that he’s not surprised.
“This administration can’t define what a woman is, and now it can’t define what milk is,” Thompson declared.
By Sherry Bunting, (updated from Farmshine print edition, Feb. 10, 2023)
WASHINGTON — USDA is taking aim at a different area of school milk with new proposed rules announced Feb. 7 that could limit flavored milk to only students in grades 9 through 12. A second option would be to allow all grade levels access to flavored milk, but with draconian cuts to the amount of added sugar they could contain, without regard for nutrient density.
We already have nonsensical restrictions on fat levels for school milk. The more fat is removed from diets, the more sugar is added. That’s a default truth, especially for chocolate milk.
(Please note that the FDA Healthy Labeling proposed rule is another piece of the National Strategy. Public comments on that end Feb. 16, 2023 at this link)
The goal of the National Strategy and the Feb. 7 proposed school meal rule, said Vilsack, is to end hunger and diet-related diseases by 2030.
With that pronouncement and other platitudes about hunger and health… USDA set off to the races on a set of new standards in a proposed rule for school meals that will further limit consumption of nutrient dense foods as multi-year implementation begins when ‘transitional flexibilities’ end in the 2024-25 school year.
Reducing added sugar and sodium levels, as well as increasing the percentages of whole grains, are at the core of the new rules, but there are pages and pages of rules to analyze.
Saturated fat restrictions, including milkfat, will continue and will be more restrictive as the transitional flexibilities USDA has allowed since the Covid pandemic and supply chain disruptions will end in school year 2024-25; however, more flexibility is granted to saturated fats from plant-based sources, such as seed oils.
Secretary Vilsack insists USDA has been on the right track with school meals since 2010. He applauded the results since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was passed (which set up the vehicle for USDA to further restrict saturated fat and to remove whole and 2% milk from schools).
He said that the rate of obesity has declined among children in lower income brackets in every year since 2010. (We’ll have to dig into that because we’ve seen studies and reports showing quite the opposite trend.)
In other words, Vilsack is fully committed to the fat restrictions, and now added sugar and sodium are the new screws to be tightened.
“This makes me sad for our kids,” wrote one school foodservice director in an email after reading the proposed rule.
“If they don’t want us anymore, just tell us now and save us all the misery,” a milk bottler said in conversation upon hearing the news.
“Do public comments ever really make a difference?” a prominent nutrition and health investigator and advocate wrote in an email. “It seems to me that it’s so much window-dressing.”
Friday’s panel with Secretary Vilsack could be described as window-dressing. Consisting of a school-involved mother, a teacher, and a foodservice director, they each called for greater flexibility, more resources and support and more tools to feed nutritious meals as well as more time for children to eat their meals.
Flexibility was a big part of their panel comments. However, the new proposed rule is anything but flexible.
According to the USDA news release Monday, the USDA Food Nutrition Service describes this as “a gradual, multi-year approach to implementing a few important updates to the nutrition standards.”
These include, according to USDA:
— Limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu;
— Allowing flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars;
— Incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years; and
— Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.
In some of these areas, USDA FNS proposes different options and is requesting input on which of the options “would best achieve the goal of improving child health while also being practical and realistic to implement.”
Specifically for milk, the proposed rule open to public comment contains two options, stating: “Both options would include the new added sugars limit for flavored milk and maintain the requirement that unflavored milk is offered at each meal service.
The two options further restrict flavored milk — even after the added sugars are reduced — as follows:
• Option 1: Allow only unflavored milk for grades K-8 and allow flavored and unflavored for grades 9-12. OR Allow only unflavored milk for grades K-5 and allow flavored and unflavored for grades 6-12. Either proposal would be effective School Year 2025-26.
• Option 2: Continue to allow flavored and unflavored milks for all grades (K-12).
On added sugars affecting the milk as well as other dairy products served in schools, the proposed rule states:
• Limits for grain-based desserts, breakfast cereals, yogurts, and flavored milks, effective in school year (SY) 2025-26.2 are product-based. (This means different rules for different foods).
• Weekly added sugars limit that must average less than 10% of calories per meal, effective school year 2027-28.
Stricter sodium levels are another area of multi-year implementation that will impact cheeses served in schools.
Dairy organizations are noting in their statements that they are looking into the particulars of these changes, and are at least glad to see non-fat and low-fat milk and dairy included but share concern about the proposed flavored milk restrictions.
(In this reporter’s opinion, the food police are going too far. We must find a way to feed and nourish children at school without jeopardizing their actual consumption of nutrient-dense whole foods that strengthen them and help them learn.)
One thing is clear about children. If it doesn’t taste good, they’re not going to consume it. In fact, several surveys indicate that if flavored milk is removed at the grade levels USDA is proposing, school milk sales could drop as much as 40%. This is on top of the 30% drop seen since 2012 when USDA — under then Secretary Vilsack — issued the rule restricting school milk to be fat-free or 1% low-fat unflavored or fat-free flavored options only.
First, USDA removed the fat, which is one element of milk’s flavor, not to mention a wealth of scientific evidence USDA continues to ignore on the health and nutritional benefits of milkfat, especially for growing children. Now, USDA proposes to remove the flavored options of milk until high school (or middle school).
Offering only fat-free and 1% low-fat white milk to elementary and middle-school aged students will be a non-starter for most of them.
Count on this leading to reduced consumption of a most nutrient-dense food and beverage, more wasted milk headed to landfills as the requirement to serve the milk stays intact, and a faster decline in fluid milk consumption into the future.
The proposed rules do not address the role of ‘offer vs. serve’. Currently, many schools allow students to refuse one or two of the meal options to cut down on waste. If fat-free or 1% low-fat white milk is the only milk option for students until 9th grade or 6th grade, count on it being refused, which then produces trends that have cumulative effects on school milk orders.
USDA FNS encourages all interested parties to comment on the proposed school meal standards rule during the 60-day comment period that began February 7, 2023 and ends April 10, 2023.
To read the proposed rule and comment on the docket FNS-2022-0043-0001, click here
Or mail comments to School Meals Policy Division, Food and Nutrition Service, P.O. Box 9233, Reston, Virginia 20195. Reference Docket # FNS-2022-0043-0001
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York recently introduced — again — her bill requiring schools to offer flavored milk. This was a response in the last legislative session to prevent the New York City mayor and others from removing flavored milk options from schools. It looks like now this is a bill that will directly compete with USDA’s proposed new rule. Interested parties may also want to contact their members of Congress to support the flavored milk bill and to support the choice of whole milk in schools, WIC and other government feeding programs. More on such legislative efforts later.
By Sherry Bunting, updated from original publication in Farmshine, Sept. 30, 2022
WASHINGTON — Get ready for unscientific nutrition bullying. Announced more than a year ago, the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Wednesday, September 28 was cloaked in secrecy until the eve of the event, when the 44-page “Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health” was released Tuesday, September 27 around Noon.
By 5:00 p.m., the Conference agenda appeared in the inbox of registered participants, and during the overnight hours, the Biden Administration released a fact-sheet announcing $8 billion in “new commitments” from over 100 private businesses, local governments and philanthropies for what it calls a “transformational vision.”
Taking a page from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos-style approach to food transformation, the White House solicited pledges to address the five “pillars” in its playbook.
Of note among them are a $500 million investment by Sysco (foodservice vendor), nearly $50 million by Danone, $250 million from a collaboration of the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association on a ‘food as medicine’ initiative, and an undisclosed amount for a collaboration between Environmental Working Group, the James Beard Foundation, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition to prompt more plant-based alternative and vegan offerings in foodservice — to name a few.
Then, at 9:15 a.m., just 15 minutes before USDA Secretary Vilsack was set to open the Conference ahead of President Joe Biden’s remarks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its “proposed updated definition of a ‘Healthy’ claim on food packages to help improve diet and reduce chronic disease.”
Presto: FDA provided the ‘teeth,’ describing its proposal as aligning directly with the Dietary Guidelines. For the proposed rule, click here and to submit a comment by Dec. 28, 2022, (now updated as comment period ends Feb. 16, 2023): click here
The flurry of activity appeared in scripted fashion within the 24-hours prior to the start of the White House Nutrition Conference convening stakeholders. The first such conference was over 50 years ago and had served as the launch pad for what are known today as the infamous Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).
The Conference and follow up actions, said President Biden on Sept. 28, are being devoted to “nourishing the soul of America so that no child goes to bed hungry and no parent dies of a disease that can be prevented. We can do big things,” he said about the stated 2030 goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and reducing diet-related illnesses and other nutrition-related health inequities.
The President continued: “We can use these advances to do more to be a stronger and healthier nation, to achieve ambitious goals. We must take advantage of these opportunities when we have these children in a whole of government, whole of society approach. We need to think in ways we never thought before.”
In his remarks ahead of the President, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that government programs feed 1 in 4 children. He and Biden both talked about expanding the child credit permanently. They talked about $2 billion in funding for food banks and schools, including $100 million for ‘incentives’ to make school meals healthier. They both noted funding to make free school meals available for 9 million additional children. A laundry-list of throwing money at a problem without re-evaluating the flawed guidelines that run the school meals and other USDA food programs despite preponderance of evidence that saturated fats are not the enemy.
There was talk of going “a new direction” but this is all process-based. There was no talk of reviewing the flawed Dietary Guidelines that helped get us here and that the Biden-Harris strategy puts so much emphasis on.
Parsing through the 44-page National Strategy, the bottom line is to expect more of the same drill-down on eliminating animal fats, only worse and with stiffer process, labeling and speech boundaries through FDA and the FTC.
We can expect nutrition bullying to commence — if we step outside of the still-vague but Dietary Guidelines-centered White House playbook. In fact, in addition to the FDA ‘Healthy’ label update, a small-print detail in the 44-page Strategy promises power and funding to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize and penalize food marketing claims for being out-of-bounds on the Biden-Harris DGA-scripted nutrition field of play.
Vilsack noted the National Strategy’s approach is a “whole of government approach that involves the entire federal family.”
In preparation for the Conference, many have lamented the lack of transparency leading up to it. For months, the Conference website gave instructions on how to hold a ‘watch party,’ or a ‘satellite event,’ and how to rally support for nutrition and health ahead of time. But all of the necessary details were missing — until the day of the conference.
Emailed invitations were sent to those who registered just three days before — requesting that they visit a web-portal and record an interview to provide input. There, people respond to White House questions and their faces are added to a streaming screen full of moving mouths — giving the appearance of broad input flowing in from Americans.
Made nervous by the lack of a published agenda or framework, over a dozen agricultural organizations had sent a letter to President Biden on September 8th asking for a “seat at the table.” Those organizations included American Farm Bureau and commodity groups for wheat, beef, sorghum, peanuts, canola, soybeans, barley, corn, sunflower, eggs and rice.
Dairy organizations were conspicuously absent from any of the pre-Conference letter-writing or other such public statements. But then, the dairy industry has its man Vilsack in play, and its DGA 3-a-day – so case-closed – can’t be bothered on the milkfat and whole milk issue.
On the agenda provided the day of the Conference, we found former DMI vice president of sustainability, Erin Fitzgerald — who now serves as CEO of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and who represented USFRA and referenced her boss at the dairy checkoff during a WEF panel in Davos earlier this year — leading a plenary session on “access to affordable foods.” Also, Chuck Conners of the National Association of Farmer Cooperatives led the plenary discussion on “empowering consumers to make healthy choices.”
(We learned after the Sept. Conference that National Milk Producers Federation and the National Dairy Council, funded by the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff, were invited to attend. They were represented, and they brought “student leaders” from GENYOUth. To read NMPF’s statement after the Conference, click here).
Key questions around “what are those healthy choices” to be compassed in tools and identified in FDA labeling went repeatedly unanswered as the discussions focused on approaches and processes, perhaps deeming the unsettled dietary science on fats to be settled science with no need for discussion.
Nutrition Coalition founder, advocate, author and investigative journalist Nina Teicholz has been writing about the Conference for weeks before it began, noting the lack of a pre-conference agenda and the refusal of the Administration to review the science on saturated fats ahead of this ‘landmark’ event.
She points out that the White House delegated Conference planning to the Dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University Professor Dariush Mozaffarian — developer of the Food Compass, which is a new method for rating and ranking foods in categories to be consumed frequently, modestly, and occasionally.
To understand what the Food Compass looks like — sugary cereals rank far ahead of the milk that goes in the bowl with them. And, nearly 70 brand-named cereals from General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Post are ranked twice as high as eggs cooked in butter! Alternative fake milk beverages, such as almond juice, rank ahead of skim milk and far ahead of whole milk. Potato chips (yes, potato chips) are an example of a food that ranks ahead of a simple hard-boiled egg and light-years ahead of whole milk, most cheeses and real beef.
In fact, the only cattle-derived product to get top sector ranking is plain non-fat yogurt. (Surprise: Danone was one of the Food Compass development sponsors). Meanwhile, most cheeses, whole milk, and beef ranked near or at the very bottom of the lowest categories.
Teicholz laments the lack of consideration by the White House, USDA, HHS and FDA as they ignore many reviews including the most recent state-of-the-art review on saturated fats, whose authors include five former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
“These are the people who wrote the guidelines saying: ‘We got it wrong,’” writes Teicholz.
Their paper was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiologists, whose Editor in Chief named it as one of the top 5 papers of the year. Science like this appears to be off the menu of the White House nutrition playbook.
The entire playbook hinges upon the main tenets of the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans even though the DGAs are being questioned by the scientific community… Even though the DGAs have screened out sound science on dietary animal fats and proteins for at least the past three cycles (15 years)… Even though the rates of American obesity and diet-related illnesses were mostly stable pre-DGA but have risen steadily since the DGA cycles began… And even though these consequences have risen dramatically among children and teens during the past decade since school meals, school milk and a la carte competing foods and beverages were further restricted to the low-fat levels of the DGAs.
What does the White House blame for this poor performance? The playbook cites the Covid pandemic food choices of Americans — stuck at home — for the deteriorated statistics. Unbelievable! These statistics have been deteriorating for decades, especially since 2012.
Looking over the playbook, it closely follows the pattern of FDA’s Multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy proceedings that have been quietly underway after public hearings in 2018-19 until the ‘Healthy’ label proposal was announced Sept. 28, 2022.
Appearing in the White House playbook is the proclamation that food and beverage packaging will move toward simpler nutrition guidance under FDA, that an easily recognizable ‘healthy symbol’ will be reserved for front-of-package labeling on those foods the government deems Americans should eat, and a potential ranking system for symbols will be developed for packaging of foods and beverages the federal government deems unhealthy.
This is all coincidentally similar to the Tufts Food Compass, and the substance behind these simplified ‘healthy’ (or not) symbols is a doubling-down on the low-fat DGAs as a primary base metric. Here is a deep dive into the Tufts Food Compass that Mozaffarian, the White House Nutrition Conference Chairman, had a critical role in developing to now be the formation of future food policy. Read the comprehensive analysis here
The National Strategy calls for even more adherence to the flawed DGAs among every sector of the economy beyond government feeding programs, schools, hospitals, and military diets to include foodservice offerings, supermarket layouts, online shopping algorithms, even licensing for all daycare or childcare providers and nutrition certification for these licensed childcare providers – not just those receiving government subsidies for food.
This is so-called “stealth-health” at its best — or rather its worst.
The Biden Administration professes to be concerned about the 1 in 10 households experiencing food insecurity and the rise in diet-related diseases among the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. The White House cites data showing 19 states have obesity prevalence at 35% or higher with 1 in 10 citizens having diabetes, 1 in 3 with cancer in their lifetime, and nearly 5 in 10 with high blood pressure.
Yet, there is no pause for a comprehensive review of the very dietary guidance, the DGAs, that helped get us here.
The National Strategy reveals how the Administration is assembling executive orders, legislative prompts, calls for action among food organizations, companies, agencies, academia and state and local governments to get everyone on the same page making Davos-style pledges and to conform to the federal playbook.
In the executive summary, the President writes: “Everyone has an important role to play in addressing these challenges: local, State, territory and Tribal governments; Congress; the private sector; civil society; agricultural workers; philanthropists; academics; and of course, the Federal Government.”
(Note Biden’s only reference to farmers or food producers is as “agricultural workers.”)
The playbook’s five pillars talk about improvement, integration, empowerment, support and enhancement. It coins phrases like ‘food as medicine’ and ‘prescriptions for food.’ Reading deeper, we see a launch pad for a new method of nutrition ranking and labeling with the primary factors listed as low-sodium, low-fat and reduced added sugars.
The playbook’s diagrams show us the concerning impact of food insecurity and diet-related diseases in poor overall health, poor mental health, increased financial stress, decreased academic achievement, reduced workforce productivity, increased health care costs and reduced military readiness – but then doubles-down on the solution being more of the same low-fat / high-carb dietary path that got us here.
The White House playbook states that, “The vast majority of Americans do not eat enough vegetables, fruits or whole grains and eat too much saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.” But at the same time, on the saturated fat question, the data show per capita consumption of red meat has declined since the start of the DGAs, and milk consumption has substantially declined.
Americans are being called upon to “unify around a transformational vision,” said Biden.
This vision includes more federal control of diets and nutrition education after failing miserably with the control it already possesses. There is no talk of revisiting the path we are on, just doubling-down on how to get more Americans onto that DGA path, to tell them what to eat, and to put the FDA stamp on ‘approved’ foods and beverages while having the FTC investigate health and nutrition claims that fall outside of the flawed DGAs.
Translation: Let the ‘nutrition bullying’ from the White House bully-pulpit begin. Some of us are ready to rumble.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An attempt by Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.) to get his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids bill attached as part of an amendment to the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization package failed last week despite the bill having nearly 100 cosponsors, including both Republicans and Democrats.
Joining him in introducing the amendment during the Committee’s markup of the Democrat’s child nutrition reauthorization were Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Fred Keller (R-Pa.) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho).
“Unfortunately, the Democrats folded on us, and the amendment was defeated,” said Thompson in a Farmshine phone interview Tuesday (Aug. 2). The amendment also included language that would have allowed whole milk for mothers and children over age 2 enrolled in the WIC program.
“The current leadership has an anti-kid, anti-dairy bias, that’s my interpretation,” Thompson said. “Our whole milk provisions are good for youth and their physical and cognitive well-being. It’s also good for rural America.”
Thompson said his effort as a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor was to include the substance of two bills related to whole milk in the huge reauthorization package. Child nutrition reauthorization is normally a five-year cycle, but it has not been updated in over a decade since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act passed under a Democrat majority in 2010 to double-down on anti-fat policies in all government feeding programs, including schools.
“We wanted moms and children to get access to the best milk, but this has become all politics with no logic,” he said.
The Committee moved the child nutrition package forward last week without the whole milk provisions. That package will now go to the full House for a vote.
Thompson said its fate is uncertain, that it is likely to pass the House, although the margins are tighter there, he explained.
However, he believes the child nutrition package will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate where it likely will not receive the 60 votes needed to pass.
If that happens, then the task of writing it would begin again in the next legislative session (2023-24).
“Our best hope (of getting the whole milk provisions for schools and WIC) is for Republicans to take back the majority in November,” said Thompson, explaining that he is already working with Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina. “She understands the issue and knows this is one of my top priorities.”
If Republicans gain a House majority in the midterm elections, Foxx is a likely candidate for chair of Education and Workforce, and Thompson would be a senior member of that committee as well as being a likely candidate for chair of the House Agriculture Committee, where he is currently the Ranking Member.
In fact, he said he is “very positive” about being successful getting Whole Milk for Healthy Kids out of committee under Republican leadership and is already working hard to ensure its success out of the full House, pending who is in leadership after the midterms.
Thompson said he is also working on allies in the Senate.
Up until now, it has been the outgoing Senator from Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey – who has “carried the milk” on this issue with companion legislation in the Senate.
“His bill impressed me in how he and his team thought through the issue on fat limits that are imposed on our nutrition professionals in schools,” said Thompson, taking note for future reintroductions of his bill.
On the House side, the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization originates in the Education and Workforce Committee, but in the Senate the package originates in the Agriculture Committee.
Thompson notes that if the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, the current Ranking Member of the Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, is a likely candidate for chair. Boozman, who previously served in the U.S. House and was a mentor to Thompson. Today, they are the Ag Ranking Members in the two chambers and work closely on issues important to farmers and ranchers.
Back in 2018, when Thompson was asked at a farm meeting why his first introduction of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids did not pass when Republicans did have a majority in the House and Senate in the 2017-18 legislative session, Thompson noted that National Milk Producers Federation, at that particular time, supported a more gradual shift to first codify the permission for 1% flavored milk then work up to the whole milk provision.
When asked the question again after his amendment failed, he reflected, noting that in the 2017-18 legislative session, the school milk issue was not well-understood in either chamber of Congress. Then Secretary of Agriculture had made an executive decision to provide flexibility for schools to serve 1% flavored milk instead of limiting it to fat-free. But a bill to codify that change into law has also failed to pass in its three attempts as well.
It’s not hard to believe that members of Congress do not understand this issue — given the fact that it has taken many years and much grassroots education effort to open even the eyes of parents to the school milk issue. Today, many parents are still unaware that their children over age two at 75% of daycares and 95% of schools (any that receive any federal dollars) do not have the option of drinking whole and 2% milk. Their only milk options by federal prohibition are 1% and fat-free. People just don’t believe it to be true and figure the problem kids have with milk at school is because it’s not chilled enough or comes in a hard to open carton.
In the current effort to get whole milk provisions into the child nutrition reauthorization, however, Thompson confirmed that in addition to the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk effort — “all major dairy organizations were working on this.”
Put simply, said Thompson, if the Republicans gain a majority in November, they are likely to be the ones who will write the next child nutrition package. As the one written recently by the Democrats is headed to the full House and has a tough-go in the Senate, Thompson said even if it does pass, targeted legislative fixes could be achieved in the next legislative session, pending a change in leadership.
“My goal is to work hard. The package that is going to the House now under the Democrats not only does not include whole milk provisions, it continues to micromanage school nutrition professionals who are the ones who know the kids the best and are in the best position to know how to help them eat in a healthy way,” said Thompson.
“Under the current (Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010) and this update — if it passes — kids aren’t eating the lunches. If they are not eating the meals (or drinking the milk), then it is not nutritious,” he added.-30-
Checkoff cites ‘uncontrollable circumstances’ bringing shelf-stable milk to schools
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Aug. 12, 2022
DALLAS, Tex. — Last week, yet another round of plant closures was announced by Borden, well-timed as a factor said to be driving shelf-stable milk into schools and other venues in affected regions like the Southeast; however, an industry “innovation” shift to the convenience, “experience ” and reduced deliveries (carbon/energy cost and intensity) said to be associated with lactose-free extended shelf-life and aseptically-packaged milk has been gradually in the making for months, if not years.
The Dallas-based Borden, owned by two private equity firms, will close fluid milk plants in Dothan, Alabama and Hattiesburg, Mississippi “no later than Sept. 30, 2022, and will no longer produce in these states,” the company said.
The Aug. 3 announcement represents Borden’s fifth and sixth plant closures in as many months.
A string of sell-offs and closings since April have occurred under “the great consolidator” — former Dean Foods CEO Gregg Engles. Engles has been CEO of ‘new Borden’ since June 2020, when his Capital Peak Partners, along with Borden bankruptcy creditor KKR & Co., together purchased substantially all assets to form New Dairy OpCo, doing business as Borden Dairy.
“While the decision was difficult, the company has determined that it could no longer support continued production at those locations,” Borden said in the Aug. 3 statement that was virtually identical to the statement released April 4 announcing previous closures of its Miami, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina plants by May 31, including a stated withdrawal from the South Carolina retail market as well.
In addition to ending fluid milk processing at six of its 14 plants — four in the Southeast, two in the Midwest — Borden announced in late June its plans to sell all Texas holdings to Hiland Dairy, including three plants in Austin, Conroe and Dallas, associated branches and other assets.
Hiland Dairy, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is jointly owned by the nation’s largest milk cooperative Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, and Prairie Farms Dairy, a milk cooperative headquartered in Edwardsville, Illinois that includes the former Wisconsin-based Swiss Valley co-op.
DFA already separately owns the Borden brand license for cheese.
Also in June, Borden announced an end to fluid milk operations in Illinois and Wisconsin at two former Dean plants the company purchased jointly with Select Milk Producers in June 2021 after a U.S. District Court required DFA to divest them.
Borden closed the Harvard (Chemung Township), Illinois plant in July, and local newspaper accounts note the community is hopeful a food processing company other than dairy will purchase the FDA-approved facilities. Borden also ceased bottling at De Pere, Wisconsin on July 9, but continues to make sour cream products at that location.
The combined plant closures and sales by Borden now stand at nine of the 14 plants, leaving an uncertain future for the remaining five plants in Cleveland, Ohio; London, Kentucky; Decatur, Georgia; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Winter Haven, Florida. The sales and closures, including announced withdrawals from some markets, having combined effects of funneling more market share to DFA and to some degree Prairie Farms and others against a backdrop of additional Class I milk plant closures and reorganizations during the 24 months since assets from number one Dean and number two Borden were sold in separate bankruptcy filings.
“Borden products have a distribution area which covers a wide swath of the lower Southeast, including the Gulf’s coastal tourist areas. The Dutch Chocolate is a favorite of milk connoisseurs, and their recent introductions of flavored milks have received great reviews,” an Aug. 6 Milksheds Blog post by AgriVoice stated. A number of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi farms may be affected by the most recent closures.
Meanwhile, the closures are affecting milk access for schools and at retail. According to its website, Borden serves 9,000 schools in the U.S.
In recent weeks, photos have been circulating of empty dairy cases in the Green Bay, Milwaukee and greater Chicago region with signs stating: “Due to milk plant closures, we are currently out of stock on one gallon and half gallons of milk.”
School milk contracts in that region are also reportedly impacted.
However, most notable is the impact on school milk contracts in the Southeast as students begin returning to classrooms.
According to the Aug. 5 online Dairy Alliance newsletter to Southeast dairy farmers, the regional checkoff organization confirmed the latest round of Borden closures are plants that “currently provide milk to 494 school districts… and use around 95 million units a school year.”
The Dairy Alliance reported it is working with schools “to keep milk the top choice for students… We do not want schools to apply for an emergency waiver that would exempt them from USDA requirements of serving milk until they find a supplier.
“These uncontrollable circumstances will lead to more aseptic milk in the region, but this is better than losing milk completely in school districts that have little or no options,” the newsletter stated.
Southeast dairy farmers report their mailed copy of a Dairy Alliance newsletter in July had already forecast more shelf-stable milk coming to schools as part of the strategic plan to protect and grow milk sales by ensuring milk accessibility and improving the school milk experience. In addition to the Borden plant closures, the report cited school milk “hurdles” such as inadequate refrigerated space requiring multiple frequent deliveries amid rising fuel and energy costs and labor shortages.
Southeast dairy farmers were informed that the Dairy Alliance School Wellness Team was already working to mitigate bidding issues with shelf-stable milk for school districts in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.
Diversified Foods Inc. (DFI), headquartered in New Orleans, was identified as the main supplier of this shelf-stable milk to schools in the region, reportedly sourcing milk through Maryland-Virginia, DFA and Borden.
In addition, DFI is a main sponsor of the Feeding America conference taking place in Philadelphia this week (Aug 9-11), where it is previewing for nutrition program attendees their new lactose-free shelf-stable chocolate milk. DFI also sponsored the School Nutrition Association national conference in Orlando earlier this summer, and social media photos of the booth show the shelf-stable, aseptically packaged versions of brands like DairyPure, TruMoo, Borden and Prairie Farms, along with DFI’s own ‘Pantry Fresh’ shelf-stable milk in supermarket and school sizes.
Coinciding with the flurry of Borden closings and shelf-stable milk hookups for schools, DFA announced last week (Aug. 1) that it will acquire two extended shelf-life (ESL) plants from the Orrville, Ohio based Smith Dairy. The SmithFoods plants will operate under DFA Dairy Brands as Richmond Beverage Solutions, Richmond, Indiana and Pacific Dairy Solutions, Pacific, Missouri. A SmithFoods statement noted the transfer would not affect the farms or employees associated with these plants.
This acquisition aligns with DFA’s similar strategy to “increase investment and expand ownership in this (shelf-stable) space… and create synergies between our other extended shelf-life and aseptic facilities,” the DFA statement noted.
I guess it’s true, good dairy bills – for more than a decade now – continue to be introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, only to pass in the House but then die in the Senate. We’ve seen it with the many bills over the years aimed at amending the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Law, and now we are seeing it with the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act.
HB 2397 was introduced by Representative John Lawrence, and it passed the State House almost unanimously (196 to 2) in April. It then passed the State Senate Agriculture Committee and was re-referred to the State Senate Appropriations Committee, where it sits today digesting the “scare tactics” of its opponents – causing some heartburn for lawmakers thinking USDA could withhold all free and reduced school lunch reimbursements in Pennsylvania.
USDA is the bully waving children’s lunch money like a mighty sword demanding submissive obedience, even suggesting in May that schools lacking appropriate LGBTQ+ policies for “gender affirming” use of locker rooms, rest rooms and sports participation could be denied their free and reduced school lunch reimbursements. USDA has since recanted this notion — saying they meant only to address discrimination associated with the provision of the food. That’s more like it. But that redirection of the Department’s prior statement did not happen until more than 20 states’ Governors and Attorneys General threatened to sue the Biden Administration for using the lunch money of economically disadvantaged children to implement federalized bathroom gender policies.
On whole milk in schools, similar scare tactics are being used to prevent the Pennsylvania state bill from being voted on in the Senate chamber.
Bow thee, oh Pennsylvanians, to King Vilsack and the Dietary Police.
Even a certain farm paper published in Lancaster County has made it their business to take every point of whole milk choice supporters, the evidence, the law, and tear it apart – piece by piece. A head-scratcher, for sure.
I have been digging into the original Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the subsequent amendments through the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), as well as various memos from USDA to state nutrition program directors when the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules were implemented to govern a la carte beverages in 2012. I have also read through Pennsylvania Department of Education audits of schools, which are all publicly available. I can find no tie between a state law offering a self-select choice of whole milk (paid for with state or local or parental funds) to students as grounds for withholding free and reduced school meal reimbursements from schools. In fact, quite the contrary.
Even the individual schools that would choose to provide the choice of whole and/or 2% milk to students could not be threatened with loss of their free and reduced lunch subsidy — as long as the meal pattern for the ‘served’ lunch is met; however, more importantly, it is clear that the only audit feature tied specifically to this reimbursement is that the financial eligibility of the recipients is properly qualified.
Here’s the key: Even if a school is deemed out of compliance on meal pattern or does not have a strong enough ‘wellness policy’ on ‘competing foods’ — as would be the case if whole milk was offered as a choice, USDA does not have the authority to yank the free and reduced school meal subsidy on that basis. This authority is linked to eligibility, financial eligibility.
Research into the 2010 HHFKA shows that the loss of this reimbursement is directly tied to how the students/families are qualified as financially eligible. There are extensive details on this in the law, and the auditing schools go through, the paper trail for eligibility, is extensive. This is a separate audit section from the meal pattern performance.
In fact, in passing the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the U.S. Congress clearly stated — separately — that schools can receive a 6-cents per eligible meal ‘performance increase’ as an incentive to meet the new HHFKA-prescribed meal patterns and in addressing competing foods and beverages in school wellness policies per USDA. This ‘bonus’ is tied to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences, not the Dietary Guidelines. (A 2018 National Academy of Sciences review was highly critical of the Dietary Guidelines process.)
In setting a 6-cent performance increase per eligible meal in the 2010 HHFKA, Congress also capped the total to be spent for this meal-pattern incentive at $50 million annually nationwide. This is over and above the separate free and reduced meal reimbursement, itself, which dwarfs the performance bonus at $14 billion annually nationwide.
These are separate portions of the 2010 HHFKA. In Section E of the law, Failure to Comply spells out precisely what is at risk if a school is not in meal pattern compliance — the 6 cents increase per eligible meal, not the reimbursement for qualified free and reduced meals.
As for the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules promulgated by USDA and implemented fully in 2012, which govern the a la carte beverages and snacks that can be “available” on school premises during school hours? It is important to note that USDA’s own memos to state directors in 2014 clarified that the Department will “provide exemptions for certain foods that are nutrient dense, even if they may not meet all of the specific nutrient requirements.”
Whole milk is a nutrient dense food.
However, in playing ‘dictator’ with our children’s health, USDA chose its exemptions and ignored the nutrient density of whole milk. What did they use as an example in a memo to schools? “Peanut butter and other nut butters are exempt from the total fat and saturated fat standards since these foods are also nutrient dense… and we want students to consume more of these foods,” a memo to state directors stated.
Perhaps Impossible Burger is another ‘exemption’ given its calories, fat and sodium far exceed USDA rules, but it was so-impossibly approved by USDA in May 2021 for actual federal meal reimbursement. Impossible Burger is not particularly nutrient dense – but real beef is, and real beef is greatly limited in school meal pattern compliance, along with the ban on whole milk.
Bottomline, the USDA under Secretary Vilsack in 2012 took aim at beverages. In 2018, while working for DMI as one of dairy checkoff’s highest paid executives serving as President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Tom Vilsack was cheered and awarded during the dairy checkoff founded and funded GENYOUth Gala that year for his “success” in “finally” addressing the beverage situation in schools.
Those were the words of former President Bill Clinton, a vegan, who spoke at length during the Gala about the beverage problem in the obesity crisis and how his friend Tom is the person who finally “got it done.”
What did he get done? He booted out the whole milk and paved the path for all of PepsiCo’s artificially sweetened and partially artificially sweetened beverages in school cafeterias – the Gatorade Zero, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Diet Coolers, Diet Cola’s, flavored waters – with that blend of high fructose corn syrup and sucralose that keeps them under 60 calories (the USDA threshold for an a la carte beverage per the Smart Snacks rules) and of course fat free – but also nutrition free. (PepsiCo got the GENYOUth Gala award the following year)
Sadly, the U.S. Congress also let dairy farmers down in 2010 by including the reference to the Dietary Guidelines in the one and only sentence on school milk in the HHFKA. All other nutritional references for the meal pattern are linked to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences.
Here’s what the HHFKA states under Nutrition Requirements for Fluid Milk Section 9(a)(2)(A) is amended to say: “shall offer students a variety of fluid milk. Such milk shall be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
Even that milk sentence is ‘loose,’ and open to interpretation. Is the DGA recommendation of consuming ‘less than 10% calories from saturated fat’ a per-food, per-beverage, or per-meal ordinance or a whole-day allotment?
We are told over and over that the DGAs are recommendations. Somehow USDA didn’t get that memo and decided to use DGAs to bully milk choices of children.
Never mind how counterproductive this is for children. When removing satiating nutrient dense fat from whole nutrient dense foods, kids compensate and replace this with nutritionally empty carbohydrates.
Such were the early warnings of school foodservice personnel I interviewed over a decade ago as they piloted the draconian rules before they were implemented.
Such is also among the recent findings of the Milky Way controlled study by Australian researchers involving two sets of children — one having their milkfat consumption increased and the other having their milkfat consumption decreased.
Care to guess which group saw a reduction in Body Mass Index percentile? Or which group had higher blood sodium levels? Or what the differences were in other biomarkers related to cardiovascular and metabolic health? (An article about this study appeared in the May 20 edition of Farmshine. It was the group of children who increased milkfat consumption that saw decreased BMI percentile and it was the group of children who decreased milkfat consumption that saw increased blood sodium levels! All other biomarkers for health were the same between the two groups.)
There are so many tentacles behind the scenes of how this whole school meal and school milk thing really work, that it boggles the mind – so much so that vested interests can come in and scare well-intentioned state lawmakers into thinking if they dare pass this bill and make nutrient dense flavorful whole milk available to schoolchildren as a CHOICE, that somehow the economically disadvantaged children of the Commonwealth could go hungry because USDA will take their lunch money. School foodservice directors are undoubtedly scared as well because the free/reduced reimbursements are a huge part of their budgets.
I’ve got news for the opponents of this bill, the State Senate Appropriations Committee, the Governor and the USDA: Our children are already suffering from hunger pangs in math class, and the absence of nutrient density in their school meals – on your watch right now, today. Do you care? Do the opponents of the whole milk bill spewing their scare tactics care?
The federal prohibition of whole milk in schools is the tip of a mighty iceberg that is failing our children while paving the path to an even less healthful future for America and a less economically healthful status for Pennsylvania dairy farms, the backbone of our state’s ag economy into the future.
We just celebrated our nation’s Independence Day, and yet our children cannot choose whole milk at school — even if their locally elected school boards want to offer it and even if their parents pay for it.
No one supporting this bill believes USDA will reimburse the actual whole milk, itself. Supporters just want the choice to be fully recognized as legal so that as parents, grandparents, farmers, citizens we can get about the business of next finding a way to provide this nutrient dense, satiating, delicious option to the children in our communities who consume two meals a day, five days a week, three-quarters of the year at school.
The issue spills out from the schools into other foodservice meals. It is heartwrenching for this reporter to listen to adults involved in dairy checkoff boast to farmers about how they are getting whole milk and cream into McDonald’s coffee drinks, into foodservice hot chocolate, into all of these trendy adult venues – while our children get a tiny fat-free chocolate milk in their happy meal because this school edict spills over into foodservice chains being bullied to do the same outside of school ‘for the kids’.
As adults, we should be ashamed of ourselves and reflect on our pathetic disregard for our children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.