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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nutrition expert agreed

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

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

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

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

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

School officials were blunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am thankful for the folks who push for whole milk choice

And I am thankful, perhaps most of all, for the strong and stubborn big heart of retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Editorial, April 15, 2022

Among the dairy bills moving in the Pennsylvania House and Senate, one rising to the top is the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act

What appears to be a fast rise has really been the product of a long and exhausting process for those who have worked on and reported on the issue of school milk and school meals over the past 10 to 15 years.

Six years ago, the issue began heating up, and U.S. Congressman G.T. Thompson (R-15th) introduced his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act for the first time. Two legislative sessions later, that bill, H.R. 1861, still awaits action by the House Committee on Education and Labor, having 93 cosponsors from 32 states as of April 13.

A little over three years ago, a grassroots whole milk education movement was launched by volunteers and donations after Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman painted a round bale, which led to the formation of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC.

The painstaking process of working to pry federal bureacrats’ hands off the allowable school milk offerings for children has been ongoing and exhausting.

Now there is the Pennsylvania State bill, HB 2397 Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools, authored by State Representative John Lawrence, introduced with 36 cosponsors on March 17 and passed by the State House on April 13.

The progress would not be happening without volunteers — especially the tireless efforts of Bernie Morrissey. At 85, he doesn’t have to be doing any of this. He has shown that he cares about the future for dairy farmers in Pennsylvania, and as a grandfather and great-grandfather, he cares about school milk choices. He has continually worked to get the word out about the whole milk prohibition issue.

USDA’s own pre- and post-prohibition survey showed the significant decrease in students selecting milk and the increased throwing away of milk served — in just the very first year (2012) of the complete restriction of milk choices to be only fat-free or 1% low-fat. More recent studies show it has only gotten worse.

Dairy farmers have lost a generation of milk drinkers, and Class I fluid milk sales have declined even more dramatically since the federal ban.

In the pages of Farmshine, we’ve brought you the news each step of the way. The Dietary Guidelines debacle has been covered for over 10 years. The Congressional bills have been covered. The findings of investigative science journalist Nina Teicholz have been covered, and so much more.

Since Dec. 2018, Farmshine has covered the emerging story of Nelson’s painted round bale, how it got noticed and how that led to questions from neighbors, how more bales were painted, how Bernie took it to another level making banners and yard signs, paying to print some up and distributing them and asking other agribusiness leaders to do the same, and how folks in other states are making an impact also in the movement to get the message out of the pasture and onto buildings and by roads everywhere they can.

We’ve reported on Bernie’s efforts to do political fundraisers at the grassroots level — giving farmers and agribusiness leaders opportunities to join him in supporting lawmakers who care about these issues.

We’ve reported on the major ‘Bring Whole Milk Back to School’ petition drives (30,000 strong), visits with lawmakers, the progress of the 97 Milk education effort, and so forth.

All along the way, there have been fence-straddling skeptics parsing their words. Just one example came recently after Nelson received the Pennsylvania Dairy Innovator Award during the Dairy Summit in February. That evening, one state official said to me that he “never had a problem” with the whole milk signs, but he was quick to add that he didn’t like the way the painted bales and signs only promoted whole milk, when all milk should be promoted.

Yes, all milk should be promoted, but let’s face facts here. For the past 10 to 15 years, the mandatory dairy checkoff promotion programs have not promoted whole milk. They have repeatedly used the terminology “fat-free and low-fat milk” — in lockstep with USDA bureaucrats. They even promoted the launch of blended products where real milk and plant-based fakes were combined to make what was called a “purely perfect blend.” 

“Three-a-day low-fat and fat-free” has been the mantra. 

Some dairy princesses have even confessed being afraid to tout whole milk, others have pushed the boundaries. Some have picked up the 97 Milk vehicle magnets for their personal vehicles while towing-the-line on the fat-free / low-fat wording in their “official” capacity as princesses. 

Let’s face it, the industry has used farmers’ own mandatorily-paid checkoff funds to drill USDA’s low-fat and fat-free milk message into the minds of consumers.

Someone had to start thinking outside the box if a solution to this issue was ever going to get outside the box.

Volunteers have now taken up the slack to promote whole milk, and they are moving the needle. In fact, the whole milk movement is so successful even Danone’s new fake brand – NextMilk — is trying to capitalize by using whole milk’s signature red and white cartons and placing “whole fat” above the brand name. What does that tell us?

Now, as the Whole Milk in Schools bill gains ground in the state of Pennsylvania, we see some who are trying to pour cold water on the passion and progress by suggesting that the state bill, which uses the PA Preferred framework to assert state’s rights, could lead to retaliation by other states to try harming demand for Pennsylvania-produced milk.

This is intimidation. Bullying. We see the same argument every time efforts are made to close loopholes that keep the state-mandated Pennsylvania over-order premium from getting to Pennsylvania dairy farms as the law intended. We hear that Pennsylvania milk will be discriminated against if co-ops and processors can’t continue dipping into the premium cookie jar. 

Now, it appears the same intimidation angle is being applied to HB 2397, which defines the option of whole milk in schools as pertaining to milk that is paid for with Pennsylvania or local funds and produced by cows milked on Pennsylvania farms. The bill has no choice but to use the PA Preferred framework because it is defining a role for state action on a federal prohibition.

Remember the June 2021 Pa. Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing on ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools? At the end of that hearing, State Senators in attendance were interested in doing statewide school milk trials like the one done temporarily at two school districts in Pennsylvania two years ago “under the radar.” (In one trial offering all fat levels of milk, whole milk was preferred by students 3 to 1; student selection of milk increased 52% and the amount of discarded ‘served’ milk declined by 95%!)

Key lawmakers began to show stronger interest in finding a way to give schools this option and have them collect data about student consumption and not get penalized by USDA and the Dept. of Education in the process. HB 2397 does that!

A major reason why interest is surging for this bill is because more people are coming to the realization that this prohibition exists. Prior to the 97 Milk education effort, most parents, citizens, even lawmakers, did not realize whole milk is outright banned in schools, even banned as an a la carte beverage! That goes for 2% reduced fat milk also, by the way. 

HB 2397 is about choice. There is no mandate here. None, whatsoever. Just freedom for students to make a healthful choice that they are presently denied.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a state’s interest on two critical fronts: 1) Dairy farming is essential to our economy and 2) The health of our children and freedom of choice are of the utmost importance. Students receive two out of three meals at school during a majority of the year.

Shouldn’t states and schools and parents decide milk choices instead of federal bureaucrats? Shouldn’t children get to choose the best milk our farmers produce if that’s what they’ll drink and love and benefit from? Why should they be forced to choose only the industry’s leftover skim?

Bottom line, these are times to be bold and brave.

These bills are for the children and for the farmers.

As a mother and grandmother, and dairy enthusiast, I am thankful for all who are working to move these bills forward. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with so many people who care about this issue. I am thankful for the work of 97 Milk and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee. I am thankful for the support of the Pa. Farm Bureau, Pa. Dairymen’s Association, Pa. Farmers Union, and other organizations supporting the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act.

I am thankful for the agribusiness leaders making contributions to help farmers and other whole milk education volunteers get the message and milk facts out there. I am thankful for the 30,000 people who signed online and mailed in petitions on this issue two and three years ago. 

I am thankful for Pennsylvania lawmakers who are being bold and leading — bringing their colleagues along in a bipartisan way so that more states can be encouraged to do the same.

I am thankful for all who are standing up for our dairy farmers and our children. 

And I am thankful, perhaps most of all, for the strong and stubborn big heart of retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey. He continually looks for every possible avenue to help dairy farmers be at the table to speak up about the policies that affect their futures. He knows what it means to them, and to children, to someday — hopefully soon — have the choice of whole milk in schools.

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Constitutionality defended as HB 2397 Whole Milk in PA Schools Act passes House 196-2

Rep. John Lawrence defends constitutionality of HB 2397 before near-unanimous House passage https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/pagopvideo/825289108.mp4

Dairy bills, including whole milk in schools, pass overwhelmingly in Pa. State House — all eyes to Senate now

By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, April 15, 2022

HARRISBURG, Pa. —  It was a good day in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Wednesday (Apr. 13) when a series of dairy bills, including the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act, were overwhelmingly voted for final passage, now heading to the State Senate for concurrence.

In final passage of HB 2397 (The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act), the vote was nearly unanimous 196 to 2. The bill was circulated in February via cosponsors memo to colleagues and was formally introduced March 17 by Reps. John Lawrence and Clint Owlett with 36 cosponsors in March.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s identical version, SB 1181, was introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Greenville) with 16 cosponsors on March 30, the day the House bill passed the Ag Committee. The Senate version also received unanimous support in the Senate Ag Committee as in the House and the SB 1181 received second consideration and was re-referred to Appropriations Tuesday (April 12) just before spring recess. A vote is expected when the Senate reconvenes in May.

The bill’s author Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester County) spoke eloquently to defend the constitutionality of HB 2397 before the vote on the House floor. He cited extensive case law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions showing HB 2397 “passes mustard” and does not run afoul of the supremacy clause, the interstate commerce clause, the 10th amendment of the Constitution or the 1946 Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.

The wording of the enabling Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act clearly puts the federal government in the position of “assisting” states, not overtaking them in providing a nutritious school lunch, said Lawrence.

Lawrence chose to make these remarks, citing many relevant Supreme Court decisions on different aspects, to be sure the record reflected this information even though the bill had overwhelming support from colleagues in the House. He said he did so because of the criticism on constitutional grounds coming from outside of the chamber and wanted the verbal record to reflect this information for the press to hear, because they likely wouldn’t read it all if he submitted it for the journal of record.

Lawrence thoroughly and methodically defended its constitutionality, even though the bill already had broad bipartisan support for near-unanimous passage.

“Some in the press contend that this law will run into problems with the Court on the interstate commerce clause,” said Lawrence. On this point, he cited Court decisions that apply in instances where it is based on economic protectionism, whereas HB 2397 is based on a factor completely unrelated to economic protectionism.

“Does this bill burden out of state milk producers? Pennsylvania is not creating a prohibition on milk produced out of the state. One can argue that the federal government has done that,” he explained. “HB 2397 does not discriminate against out-of-state milk. It is adding options, not limiting them. It is giving Pennsylvania schools assurance that they can spend Pennsylvania or local funds for Pennsylvania whole milk. It is the federal government — not Pennsylvania — that has drawn this whole milk line. And the bill makes provisions that if the federal measures again fully smile upon whole milk, then the statute created by House Bill 2397 will sunset.”

Even if 2397 did discriminate, Lawrence cited decisions of the Court that it is valid if for a purpose that cannot be adequately served by reasonable non-discriminatory alternatives. “In this case we do have a valid factor that is totally unrelated to economic protectionism,” said Lawrence, noting that there are at least four valid factors. They are:

1) The primary intent here is to provide nutrient-rich whole milk to the young minds of Pennsylvania school children.

2) It’s the longstanding intent of this body that maintaining our small herd dairy farms is good for the general welfare of the state, said Lawrence: “Many draw a straight line between milk consumption over the last 10 years and the removal of whole milk from schools. There is evidence to back up this claim. The loss of Pennsylvania dairy farms is not solely economic”

3) Parents should have options when it comes to the care of their children, and nothing is more basic to that, than food. “It is indisputable that many reliable studies from top-tier research institutions show the value of whole milk for children who choose to consume it,” said Lawrence.

4) There is a movement toward sourcing consummables closer to their end use. Milk produced and processed in Pennsylvania and sold to a Pennsylvania school is almost always going to have less environmental impact.

A vote in the State Senate is not expected until May when the Senate reconvenes. Back in June 2021, the Senate Majority Policy Committee held a hearing on the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. I was honored to be among those testifying. (Click here to view hearing here)

Two additional bills introduced by Rep. Lawrence — HB 223 and 224 — received unanimous final passage votes also on Wednesday and were committed to the Senate for concurrence.

HB 223 provides for the creation of keystone opportunity dairy zones to facilitate the economic development of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry through tax credits and incentives for new and expanded dairy processing.

HB 224 provides additional authority to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to collect and distribute board-established premiums through a milk marketing fund, including other provisions such as auditing.

Also passing the Pa. State House by an overwhelming margin Wednesday were HB 1847, introduced by Rep. Christina Sappey (D-Kennett Square), HB 2456, introduced by Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler), and HB 2457, introduced by Rep. Joe Kerwin (R-Schuylkill Haven). HB 1847 would change the name of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to simply the Pennsylvania Milk Board. HB 2456 provides for expansion of penalties in lieu of suspension, and HB 2457 expands PMMB authority to set testing certification fees.

To be continued in Farmshine next week

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence went on to explain the background of the bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have jurisdiction on this,” he states.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The WHOLE story on IDFA’s school milk poll

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 11, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 -30-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milk sales plummeted and waste increased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The long and the short of it

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

By Sherry Bunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how we are treating whole milk.

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

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

An example…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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