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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Dietary Guidelines catastrophe not understood by most

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— Get involved by sending or phoning a comment to YOUR members of Congress and the Secretaries of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) at this link https://www.nutritioncoalition.us/take-action/

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 26, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After months of warning about flaws in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee process, the June 17th  final meeting of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) unveiled their draft recommendations, which will become their official report at the end of this month for submission to USDA and HHS. That’s when their work will be turned into the official 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines in mid-July for public comment and implementation.

However, the DGAC process and flaws exposed in the weeks leading up to their final meeting — as well as during the final meeting itself — are prompting outrage and actionby various groups and citizens, but little media attention.

On the very same day, a separate panel of scientists published their state-of-the art review “Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-based Recommendations” in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (Not to mention 20 review papers cited by the Nutrition Coalition.)

So far, media coverage of that has also been scant. Understandably, mainstream media are busy these days with pandemic and protests. But they also don’t seem to understand that these are not just “recommendations.” These Guidelines increasingly control the most vulnerable citizens in our county — children and families in need. The DGAC readily admits that its approved food patterns do NOT come close to meeting the nutrient needs. This shortcoming includes nutrients of concern identified by physicians.

Perhaps more disappointing is the lack of attention the farm and food media have given this whole deal. Where are their voices?

As emails are sent to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and HHS Secretary Alex Azar to delay the progress of the final DGAC report due to a number of unsettling factors, form letter “we are committed” responses are what is received.

First and foremost, the DGAC did not follow the Congressional mandate to include the most recent studies on questions about saturated fats. In fact the Committee did not include any key pieces of research conducted prior to 2010 and after 2016.

With cherry-picked studies, their recommendations keep government agencies in place as anti-fat overlords, even recommending reductions in allowable saturated fats as a percentage of calories from 10% (official recommendation) down to 7 or 8% (the committee’s preference) and pushing this agenda onto children under two years of age that up until now could still drink whole milk and eat the animal products that provide the nutrients the government-favored diets do not provide.

Second, the DGAC was found by a Corporate Accountability study to be “subject to undue industry influence that can jeopardize the health of all Americans — especially Black, Indigenous, people of color both during a pandemic and the mounting diet-related disease crisis.”

The corporate accountability brief makes the case that, “It’s time public health policies were set by independent public health professionals, not food and beverage corporations.”

Third, one or more members of the 2020 DGAC have anonymously blown the whistle on the process as being rushed, and lacking scientific rigor. And over 300 doctors and medical professionals have written to urge a delay to investigate these claims.

Fourth, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has called for a redesign of the process, citing flaws in the criteria for screening research for consideration.

Fifth, the recommendations in a separate panel’s scientific review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology demonstrate that important food interactions have been ignored as well as the different biologic effects of saturated fatty acids in whole foods vs. processed foods.

Throughout the DGAC final meeting last Wednesday, the committee could not determine what foods were included and excluded in their own references to red meat, lean meat, and processed meat in different subcommittee reports and research findings. Ditto for milk (was it whole or lowfat?) and for enriched / refined grains and carbohydrates.

While the DGAC said it wanted people to focus on foods, not formulas, the report solidifies a continuation, or lowering of the current saturated fat “formula” applied to institutional feeding such as schools and daycares as well as foodservice menu-boarding.

In short, despite the fact that several foods that are relatively rich in saturated fatty acids — such as whole milk, full-fat dairy, dark chocolate and unprocessed meat — remain on the “avoid” list for the 2020-25 DGAC report, the separate panel of scientists point out the mounting evidence to the contrary — that these foods are not associated with increased cardiovascular disease or diabetes risk.

“There is no robust evidence that current population-wide arbitrary upper limits on saturated fat consumption in the US will prevent cardiovascular disease or reduce mortality,” the JACC paper states.

Quite simply, the DGAC did not follow its Congressional mandate, was not selected to include independent experts open to revisiting these long-held beliefs, and did not include important timely research to answer some of the most important questions.

At one point in last Wednesday’s meeting, it was obvious that some on the committee were frustrated by the inability of the approved diets to provide essential nutrients the medical community lists as nutrients of concern. And at one point, a mention of nutrient-dense foods containing saturated fats had one member of the unbalanced DGAC saturated fat subcommittee alluding to “new foods that are coming” as though a magic wand will fix these issues.

There it is. Without the saturated fat restrictions, and now reintroduction of cholesterol caps, how will billionaire investors in Impossible Meats, Beyond Meat, Perfect Day fake dairy proteins. and the like. get their products off the ground?

There are only two ways these silicon valley food technology investors will get a return on their investments: That is to use the anti-fat Dietary Guidelines and so-called “sustainability” benchmarks to reduce dairy and livestock production and consumption to make way for their fake food.

— Additional information: According to the Nutrition Coalition, the JACC paper comes after the group of scientists attended a workshop, “Saturated Fats: A Food or Nutrient Approach?” in February. Members of that workshop wrote a consensus statement, submitted two formal public comments to USDA, and sent a letter to the Secretaries of U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services (USDA-HHS) on their findings which concluded that limits on saturated fats are not justified and should be re-examined. The USDA-HHS have not yet replied to their letter.

— Get involved by sending or phoning a comment to YOUR members of Congress and the Secretaries of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) at this link https://www.nutritioncoalition.us/take-action/

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