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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Bipartisan Whole Milk bill introduced in U.S. Congress

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redner’s Markets lead with grassroots 97 Milk education

Dairy category sales are up, Whole milk is the star, up 14.5%

The Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free dairy case stickers are up, and the “Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard signs are being displayed at Redner’s Markets store locations. Bernie Morrissey (center) and Nelson Troutman (right) appreciate the way Redner’s and marketing director Eric White (left) are out in front as leaders in whole milk education.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 18, 2020

SINKING SPRING, Pa. — “This is an easy message to sell, and sales of whole milk are way up,” said Eric White about the Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” grassroots milk education campaign.

White is director of marketing and communications for Redner’s Markets, headquartered in Reading, Pa. with 44 stores, 35 of them in central Pennsylvania, the balance in Maryland and Delaware.

He was not surprised by the grassroots marketing campaign for whole milk: The painted round bales started by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, the banners promoted by retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey, and the social media and website promotion by 97 Milk. 

When Morrissey visited him some months ago, White was eager to join in.

The “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free stickers” are up on dairy cases at Redner’s Markets locations, White had them made with the signature red type on white background. Clover Farms Dairy, the milk bottler in Reading that supplies milk to all Redner’s stores, indicates they will be changing the case strips to promote whole milk too.

White is also putting up the “Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard signs in the store above the dairy case and on the grounds as well.

Both the grassroots stickers and the signs include the 97milk.com website where shoppers can get more information and milk education. The Redner’s Dairy cases also include the Choose PA Dairy signs, featuring photos of local farms, and the chocolate milk refuel signage from the national and regional checkoff programs.

During an interview at the dairy case in the Redner’s Sinking Spring store this week, the impact was clear: Whole milk in the jug is very much the star of the show.

In fact, the Redner’s brand, bottled by Clover, has always been whole milk. Whole milk is the only milk that gets the Redner’s name. It has always been that way, says White.

He confirmed their whole milk sales have increased dramatically. Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic has had some impact, he said: “But when I look at January through March numbers, that is how it was tracking even before the pandemic.

“I pulled the numbers, and we have seen a 14.5% increase in whole milk sales, alone, which is tremendous,” White confirmed. “The consumer message has changed, and we see people coming back to whole milk, knowing that they don’t need to drink the lower fat milk. We give our own kids whole milk at home now. It’s better for isotonic replenishment.”

Sales of whole milk at Redner’s 44 stores are up 14.5%. The entire dairy category sales are up and milk is the star, especially whole milk.

White also reported that sales for the entire dairy case are up. 

“The whole dairy category is higher, with milk being the number one product selling from the dairy category, and whole milk the number one type of milk being sold,” he said.

White also sees how whole milk sales benefit local dairy farms. “There is a confluence in how these sales benefit local agriculture that we need to support more than ever. We are seeing the messages in the media. With digital and social media, the message spreads.”

“We want to thank Redner’s for being a leader,” said Morrissey. “They are pro-farmer, pro-education and pro-consumer. They are completely on the 97 Milk page of educating consumers about whole milk as immune boosting, like our sign says. Eric has been tremendous to work with. If every supermarket chain would start educating consumers about whole milk, we would see even more benefits for consumers and farmers. The secret is education, and Redner’s is the store that is out there in front of the pack, doing it.”

The Redner’s store brand, bottled by Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa., has always been whole milk. 

Eric White has been with Redner’s for 22 years. He notes that they have long partnered with Clover Farms Dairy for their milk. They feature Clover milk in all of their stores, along with other local name brands, and of course, the Redner’s brand — whole milk — is bottled by Clover.

“It’s not that hard to do this,” said White. “We are a local family-owned company, and supporting this message brings it full circle back to the local dairy farms that are the backbone.

“We can underestimate why we are in business, and it is only because of the farms producing the food,” he observed. “Dairy and agriculture are the backbone of everything here in central Pennsylvania. A lot of businesses are here because of dairy. We are here selling food and feeding people because of the farms.”

White notes that as Redner’s expands, they are also expanding the reach of the farms shipping to Clover. More distant store locations also feature brands local to those sites as well. In fact, it is Redner’s practice to work with local farms on in-season vegetables and fruits as well as year-round products like yogurt.

Morrissey agrees, he notes that the Morrissey Insurance business he founded in the 1980s is in multiple states and appreciates grocers with stores in multiple states supporting their local and regional farms. He stresses that one of the best ways to do that is to educate consumers about whole milk.

When Troutman started painting round bales with the “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” message in December 2018, he said he never thought it would go so far.

“This is a dream come true to know all that has happened in the past two years — from the stores to the signs to the website and social media — and how the message has gone to other states and around the world,” said Troutman.

He added that, “When people work with you and work together, that’s the key.”

Troutman recalled a Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon in December 2018. “I went home frustrated,” he reflected. “I looked around at what I had, and thought, I’ll paint a round bale with the message and put it out.”

The rest, as they say, is history — and it’s a history still in the making.

Morrissey recalls the first time he stopped in at Redner’s main office. “I didn’t know Eric at the time, and I didn’t have an appointment. He saw the banner I brought with me and was eager to talk with me.”

White had seen the message on round bales popping up around the area, and he was seeing the impact on Redner’s whole milk sales.

“The 97 Milk message was not much of a revelation to me because I always knew it. I drank whole milk growing up and through college. But my wife was convinced on fat-free. Now that we know drinking whole milk does not condemn us to a life of Lipitor — especially for our kids — she is buying whole milk for our family,” he says, adding that even their pediatrician recommended whole milk.

White points out that in today’s age of marketing and new products (not to mention government edicts for schools), there are a lot of opportunities for people to get off track in healthy eating — especially for children.

Morrissey, Troutman and White all agree that the beauty of the 97 Milk effort is how it has spread, and the beauty of social media is when the truth gets out, it spreads fast.

While not present for the interview, Gn Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC, added his voice of appreciation for Redner’s.  “Milk education is a win-win for everyone involved. The biggest winner is the consumer. Thanks to Redner’s for being part of the milk education team,” said Hursh.

“Without Redner’s, without Eric, we could not accomplish this,” added Morrissey. “Redner’s is the leader in educating the public and being very transparent about why whole milk sales are good for consumers and for farmers.”

The importance of whole milk to consumers is evident. During the height of the pandemic last spring, White said consumers showed how much it is a staple they rely on. Even during our interview Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the forecast calling for a record December snowstorm in the area for the next day, the dairy case was very busy with shoppers and constant re-stocking of milk, especially re-stocking the shelves with Redner’s Farm Fresh Vitamin D whole milk – in demand!

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‘Vote’ Whole Milk School Lunch Choice: Comment to USDA by Dec. 28, 2020

EPHRATA, Pa. –  Want whole milk choice in school? Become a citizen for immune-boosting nutrition and comment at this link by Dec. 28, 2020: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FNS-2020-0038-0001

Below is a sample comment, you can personalize in the official public comment section at this link  https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FNS-2020-0038-0001 by Dec. 28, 2020:

Dear USDA,

We appreciate the flexibilities rule, but it does not go far enough to benefit the healthy choices of our school children. WHOLE MILK should be offered as a choice at school meals because children and teens in trials preferred whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat milk, meaning they drank it and consumed the nutrients instead of discarding! Store sales of whole milk during the pandemic are up 14% (while other classes are down). Parents are choosing whole milk for their families because it is nutritious and offers better absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins and other immune-supporting advantages. 

Research shows whole milk consumption among healthy children was associated with higher (immune-boosting) Vitamin D stores and lower body mass index, a 40% reduction in risk of becoming overweight! Children and teens love whole milk so they will drink it instead of throwing it away. 

In fact, a high school/middle school trial in Pennsylvania last year showed that when all fat percentages of milk were offered, milk consumption grew by 65% and the volume of milk being wasted / discarded declined 95%! 

Current rules and “flexibilities” don’t even allow schools to offer whole milk or 2% reduced fat milk a la carte. We want to see flexibility that allows children to choose 2% milk and whole milk, which is standardized to 3.25% fat, so they can benefit from the healthy nutrition they love instead of being limited to fat-free and 1% low-fat milks that they throw away. Students discard the fat-free and low-fat milk then buy drinks devoid of nutrition and sweetened with a combination of high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners! At middle and high school levels, USDA rules allow the choice of caffeinated energy drinks — but not whole milk! That’s a win for big beverage and foodservice companies, but not for our children. Let the health of our children win with whole milk choice.

BACKGROUND: USDA Food Nutrition Services (FNS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register Nov. 27 that would ‘maintain’ the flexibility for school meals related to milk, grains, and sodium. 

For the milk portion, the proposed rule would make permanent the choice of flavored low-fat 1% milk in child nutrition programs — without waivers. Back in 2010, low-fat flavored milk was eliminated along with whole and 2% reduced-fat white milk. This rule is a small step to solidify the change made by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to at least provide schools with flexibility to allow the choice of 1% low-fat flavored milk in 2017. At that time, flavored milk in schools was required to be fat-free.

The recent new rule up for comment was issued as an administrative step to insure that USDA is complying with a 2018 court ruling that challenged these flexibilities. The ruling required a comment period for the rule. Schools currently have this flexibility temporarily in all USDA child nutrition programs through June 30, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.

USDA says it is “committed to listening to and collaborating with customers, partners, and stakeholders to make these reforms as effective as possible, and encourages all those who are interested in school meals to share their comments and recommendations for improvement through regulations.gov.”

This is an opportunity for communities to respond and ask USDA for better flexibilities.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk will post to Regulations.gov docket — again — the 30,000-name petition with hundreds of comments supporting the choice of whole milk in schools. As customers, partners and stakeholders in child nutrition programs, parents, teachers, school foodservice staff, farmers and community in general have a stake in what USDA allows and doesn’t allow as beverage choices in schools.

Here is the link to the full docket regarding the USDA school lunch flexibility rule https://www.regulations.gov/docketBrowser?rpp=25&so=DESC&sb=commentDueDate&po=0&dct=PS&D=FNS-2020-0038

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Grassroots dairy meet with Rep. Thompson, a champion for Ag; Dietary Guidelines, whole milk in schools top the agenda

Congressman G.T. Thompson (center) is flanked on left by Dale Hoffman of Potter County and Sherry Bunting of Lancaster County and on his right by Bernie Morrissey of Berks County, Krista Byler of Crawford County and Nelson Troutman of Berks County. The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort met with Rep. Thompson this week on dairy issues.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 30, 2020

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — From the Dietary Guidelines and whole milk choice in schools to dairy checkoff and milk pricing formula concerns, five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort from across northwestern, northern tier and southeast Pennsylvania met with U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-15th) in Bellefonte, Pa. this week to talk about dairy.

Rep. Thompson helped lead the writing of a letter signed by 53 members of the U.S. House, including Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking for a delay on the decision about final Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) for 2020-25 until all of the science on saturated fat is considered.

Despite the bipartisan letter, Thompson indicated that USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) will move ahead to finalize the guidelines by the end of the year.

Thompson shared his thoughts about the disconnect between the legislative branch and a bureaucratically appointed DGA Committee in formulating the DGAs which have so much impact on children and Pennsylvania’s rural economy.

With the election next week in the balance, Thompson said he is looking at introducing language that would give the legislative branch some role in advise and consent with regard to the DGAs. He also praised his colleagues from Pennsylvania as many have cosponsored the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and the Give Milk Act. These bills would allow whole milk as an option at school and in the WIC program.

Under the current House leadership, the bill on school milk is not moving as it has not been taken up by the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.

“As you know, our office made recommendations for members of the DGA Committee, but that didn’t happen,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to believe that the modern-day science is being ignored on this issue of whole milk. We need checks and balances, not only to serve the needs of children in school, to give them this choice, but also because of the damage these rules do to our rural economy.”

It goes without saying that if the Republicans are able to gain a majority in the House, there would be a better pathway to moving on some of these issues surrounding the way whole milk (and even 2% milk for that matter) are banned from school choices while other less nutritional beverages are offered unchecked. With Democrats in the majority for the past three years, there has been no movement on the bills.

Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee member Krista Byler of Spartansburg, Crawford County, reported to the Congressman that while the beverages offered ala carte at school are calorie controlled per serving, there are no limits on how many of these beverages a student can purchase. At the middle and high school level, sports drinks, diet tea coolers, diet soda, and energy drinks are all allowed.

“But students can’t purchase even one serving of whole milk,” she said. “They simply aren’t allowed.”

“We need to get back to where milk is not tied to the school meal calculation and let it stand alone, and give students the choice,” said Thompson.

Byler serves as head chef and foodservice director for Union City School District, and her husband Gabe operates a 125-cow dairy farm with his father and brother, along with beef cattle and grain crops.

She explained that schools are afraid to move outside of the USDA edicts based on the Dietary Guidelines because of financial repercussions, and it’s difficult to get others to see the issue because so many people are generally unaware that children are limited to only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk options at school.

Five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee from around the state talked about dairy issues with Congressman Thomspon, especially the Dietary Guidelines and getting whole milk choice in schools.

The group discussed ideas for how to obtain waivers from USDA to do a statewide trial where schools could simply offer all fat levels of milk and collect the data. One such trial, done quietly in Pennsylvania during the 2019-20 school year, revealed that when students at the middle and high school level were given the choice, they chose whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat. At the same time total milk consumption rose by 65%, and the volume of milk discarded daily by students declined by 95%.

“That’s huge,” said Byler, a constituent of the Congressman. “We don’t need to reinvent a new ‘kids milk,’ we already have one that students will choose if given the opportunity.”

Thompson agreed, stating that, “Now is the time to look at something like this because what have families been turning to in this pandemic? Whole milk,” he said.

This is supported by the most recent USDA data through June showing that both whole milk and 2% milk sales made big gains in June as supply chains worked through the early Covid issues – pushing total fluid milk sales up 2.2% over year ago year-to-date January through June with whole and 2% unflavored white milk together accounting for more than 70% of all fluid milk sales categories, and whole milk alone being the largest selling category.

“Whole milk is what families are seeking when the choice is up to them,” said Thompson, indicating that while consumers are seeing the science on whole milk, the DGA committee is not.

“All of the doctors interviewed on news programs during this pandemic are talking about Vitamin D as boosting the immune system,” said Bernie Morrissey of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee.

Thompson observed that with Vitamin D and other nutrients being fat soluble, the DGAs are missing the boat.

Morrissey and Troutman are working with businesses and organizations buying and distributing “Vote Whole Milk School Lunch Choice, Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com” yard signs that are proliferating across the countryside. A link at the 97 Milk website lets citizens know how to get involved, and a second link provides information to get involved in delaying the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines until all the science is considered on saturated fat.

Concerns about the transparency and accountability of the dairy checkoff program were also discussed, and Thompson was receptive to looking at ways to turn this around.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee suggested ending the influence of importers by ending the import checkoff of 7.5 cents per hundredweight equivalent. This seemed like a good idea when it was implemented in 2007, but in retrospect has set the globalization direction of the national dairy checkoff’s unified marketing plan and ended the practice of promoting Real Seal, made in the U.S. products.

The committee was also looking at the promotion order asking the Secretary of Agriculture, who can amend the order at any time, or to work legislatively to clarify producer rights under the law in where their ‘local’ dime portion of the checkoff is assigned for education and promotion.

Nelson Troutman, a dairy farmer in Richland, Berks County, who started the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free ‘baleboards’ noted that the corn and soybean growers have periodic review of their checkoff programs, and asked if there is a way for dairy farmers paying the mandatory checkoff to have more say on whether it should continue, or more transparency to see all of the expenditures and the plans submitted by DMI to USDA.

The Committee also suggested evaluating the way the boards are formed and even noted that the language of the order suggests the Secretary can call for a referendum even without a petition by 10% of the producers and importers. 

They noted that fresh fluid milk and other fresh dairy products are a critical market for Pennsylvania producers, but the emphasis of the industry appears to be moving in a different direction. Education, promotion and research are important, but the current direction of the national drivers is in question.  

Dale Hoffman of Hoffman Farms, Shinglehouse, Potter County and Troutman both shared the economic conditions in milk pricing and marketing of milk, especially the extreme difference between high protein value and CME cheese markets since June compared with what dairy farmers in the Northeast are actually seeing in their milk checks as negative PPDs subtract the value of their milk components.

In fact, the official Dairy Margin coverage margin for Pennsylvania is running $1 to $3 behind the U.S. average for June through September, when normally Pennsylvania runs with the U.S. average or 20 to 50 cents above it. The divergence makes it hard for producers to use risk management tools and have them function as intended.

Hoffman noted that producers have lost their ability to market their milk competitively in the region – especially in the north and west of the state — and their voice in how milk is priced is lacking. He observed that even Farm Bureau is recognizing this issue with some new recommendations.

Thompson welcomed the idea for a national hearing on milk pricing, especially as the next Farm Bill is not far off, and these issues need to be on the table early.

But first, there’s an election to get past. It is hoped that after November 3, these issues can be looked at. This has certainly been a difficult year on many fronts for all Americans, and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee was grateful to speak with the Congressman about their concerns.

Dale and Carol Hoffman of Hoffman Farms took “Vote Whole Milk” yard signs home to Potter County.

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Politics of whole milk, part 2: Vilsack banned whole milk in schools, gets dairy checkoff’s top pay

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Dec. 13, 2019

The former Ag Secretary instrumental in removing whole milk from schools is now the highest-paid executive at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) whose virtual $1 million/year in 2018 came from dairy farmers who are going bankrupt.

Farmshine Editor’s Note: Sherry Bunting has written a lengthy, well researched commentary on how the dairy economy and dairy product promotion and marketing evolved over the past decade with Tom Vilsack at the helm. Vilsack served as USDA Secretary in the Obama Administration and is the current chief of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), an affiliate of Dairy Management, Inc. Wherever he has been since 2009, Vilsack is unquestionably one of America’s most powerful influencers when it comes to dairying. And the outcome has seldom been favorable to the nation’s milk producers. Part I of this reportappeared in the December 6th edition of Farmshine, page 20. Part II follows

In my journalistic pursuits of the past decade, two statements by checkoff-paid executives and dairy checkoff board members now reverberate in my mind:

1) On milk as a beverage: “Fluid milk is dead, we have to stop beating that horse and innovate for these new beverage markets.” – 2016 during questions after a presentation by a USDEC checkoff-paid employee at a meeting of dairy policy analysts and economists.

2) On dietary guidelines and school milk: “They are a different breed. We have our own plan. We have a friend inside the White House. We are already working with someone on this. And we finally have a drink that consumers want (fairlife).” — 2015 phone call to me from a DMI board member who also served on DFA’s board, challenging an article I had written that year. In the course of our conversation, he made this comment in response to my question to him asking why the dairy industry was being silent on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that year, and why dairy was not joining forces with beef to push the solid science on animal fat as revealed in Nina Teicholz’s book Big Fat Surprise. I had also asked him why they weren’t supporting the beef industry’s opposition to the “sustainability” driven parts of the 2015 dietary guidelines.

In his Ag Secretary role in 2010, Vilsack was instrumental in the creation of GENYOUth through the MOU signed between USDA, National Dairy Council (Dairy Checkoff) and the NFL. (In fact, as Ag Secretary, Vilsack appointed some of the current Dairy Board members who then hired him at the end of the Obama administration as a DMI executive vice president and CEO of USDEC.)

Fuel Up and Play 60

USDA Photo from Feb. 4, 2011 where then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to young people at the Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) event held at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, Texas before the 2011 Super Bowl, the same day that the MOU was signed between NFL, USDA, Dairy Checkoff and GENYOUth to focus on ending childhood obesity with fat-free / low-fat foods and beverages and 60 minutes of daily exercise. And so, a decade later… here we are so much farther down this wrong road.

Today, GENYOUth is the bus on which more companies each year are hitching a ride into the schools — paid for primarily by dairy farmers in effect funding their own demise. Meanwhile, dairy farmers are the only ones not free to fully promote their best product, being relegated and regulated to government speech on fat-free / low-fat.

When Vilsack was presented the Vanguard Award during the 2017 GENYOUth Gala aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York City Harbor, former President Bill Clinton spoke his accolades, and congratulated him on being the one to overcome the hurdle of getting beverage calories included in the school meal calculations. It is the very thing the current Senate Bill seeking to allow whole milk in schools would reverse.

Bill Clinton, a vegan, went on in his 2017 GENYOUth Gala speech to emphasize how beverages were a “huge” problem in the obesity epidemic, that we don’t think about how many calories kids consume in a drink, and that regulating school beverages was a big step forward on that front.

He was talking about whole milk. Whole milk is named, specifically, on the list of beverages prohibited from sale on school grounds during school hours.

And yet plenty of PepsiCo beverages — made specially to meet the 60-calorie threshold with a combination of high fructose corn syrup and sucralose, including Gatorade and Mountain Dew Kickstart — are welcomed on those school lunch “smart snacks” acceptable beverage lists.

Vilsack started with DMI six days after the Obama Administration ended in January 2017. But 2018 was his first full year as a DMI executive, and he has been busy earning his highest-paid status.

In May, Vilsack wrote about how the U.S. dairy industry would meet its new goals to export 20% of production, and he praised the record level of exports in 2018 as “a banner year for exporters.” (We all know 2018 was anything BUT banner for dairy farmers paying his salary. In fact, export volumes were higher in 2018 than in 2017 and 2019 while prices paid to farmers were lower in 2018 than in 2017 and 2019.)

In June, Vilsack testified before Congress that the government should partner with the dairy industry to pay ‘pilot farms’ to develop and test the innovations “U.S. Dairy” will need in order to reach the Net Zero emissions goal he has been instrumental in setting. In fact, Senators referred to him as ‘the president of dairy innovation.’

The ultimate vehicle for those practices after they are tested on pilot farms will be the dairy checkoff-funded and NMPF-administrated FARM program initiated through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

At that “sustainability” hearing of the Senate Ag Committee in June, Vilsack earnestly stated that the Net Zero project – and government assistance for pilot farms to find the practices to achieve it — was essential for the U.S. dairy industry to have an edge in international markets.

In November, Vilsack endorsed former vice president Joe Biden for President of the United States and praised his candidacy “for including a path to addressing climate change while at the same time helping the rural economy and creating jobs by investing in green infrastructure, renewable fuels and low-carbon manufacturing,” according to an article about the Vilsack endorsement of Biden in the Nov. 23 edition of the Des Moines Register.

In fact, the Register article stated that Vilsack “helped write Biden’s plan for rural America.” But that’s not political involvement by a checkoff executive, is it?

It is interesting that when dairy checkoff board members are asked by the farmers paying the checkoff why they can’t stand up for whole milk in schools, the response they always get is: “That’s politics, and we can’t get into that.” Of course, the rules and regs of USDA overseeing checkoff are then cited forward and backward.

But, when it comes to Vilsack’s hands in the political pie – not to mention dairy farmers’ pockets – there are no rules and it’s all good. In fact, it’s encouraged because it’s part of the plan, the future of dairy, of food.

Vilsack is, after all, the dairy checkoff’s highest-paid executive, who is most culpable in his former position as Ag Secretary for putting the last nail in the fluid milk coffin. His policies on milk in schools and the fat-free / low-fat ‘government speech’ that now defines milk promotion, have at the very least contributed to – if not accelerated — the loss of fluid milk sales in the past decade of steepest decline.

In 2015, when confronted with what investigations have revealed about the science on animal fat, especially milk fat – according to the new and previously buried research — Vilsack said the preponderance of the evidence still favored low-fat diets. And with that proclamation, he signed the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that accelerated taking dairy markets – and our nation’s children – down the wrong road.

Think about this. From 2010 to 2018, the era in which the alliance between Vilsack’s USDA and the dairy checkoff was initiated and bloomed and in which he is now the highest paid executive – DMI controlled $140 to $159 million annually in mandatory dairy farmer funds. In that pool of funds, 25% went to salaries and other costs associated with core operations and another 30% went to contractors for promotion in ways that could be considered ‘core operations.’

In 2018, as in previous years, the NFL received $5 million; Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, received $16 million; Fairlife $8 million, Domino’s $9 million, a marketing firm for GENYOUth with ties to Edelman $4 million, McDonald’s $5 million, and Vilsack got his virtual million.

Yes, folks, hindsight is 20/20. And here we are on the eve of 2020 with former Ag Secretary Vilsack – who was paid a $999,421 salary in 2018 from mandatory dairy producer checkoff funds and is now the top-paid DMI executive — to thank for the removal of whole milk and whole dairy products from our schools. And no one cares to ask him to testify to Congress about why whole milk should be allowed in schools, but he is politically involved in so many other discussions.

The dairy industry had and has Tom Vilsack — or vice versa.

110206_OSEC_AL_1642

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 at Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, TX. The MOU outlines the joint commitment of the National Football League (NFL), Department of Agriculture, National Dairy Council (NDC), and Gen YOUth Foundation, to end childhood obesity. (Signing L to R President of the National Dairy Council Jean Regalie, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and GENYOUth Foundation CEO Alexis Glick) 

Today, DMI IRS 990 forms show that Dairy Checkoff pays Tom Vilsack just shy of $1 million/year as DMI’s highest paid executive; Dairy Checkoff pays the world’s largest PR firm Edelman $15 to $17 million/year as the purpose-driven brain-trust behind the GENYOUth and Innovation Center ‘sustainability’ concepts; Dairy Checkoff pays the GENYOUth CEO over $200,000/year to run the foundation; Dairy Checkoff pays the core operations of GENYOUth to the tune of $1.5 million; Dairy Checkoff has USDA attorneys at every meeting and on every conference call to approve promotion projects and messages (government speech); and Dairy Checkoff pays the NFL $5 to $7 million annually for their part in this “promotion.” Meanwhile, NFL promotes its brand through flag-football sets to FUTP60-participating schools; USDA markets and enforces dietary guidelines with the financial assistance of dairy farmers through the checkoff; and other companies participating in GENYOUth, most notably PepsiCo, are able to market their own pet projects, products, brands and influence to kids while the dairy farmers are regulated to government speech. Dairy Checkoff touts the FUTP60 breakfast carts as serving milk with every breakfast, but only fat-free and 1% are promoted and permitted, and USDA’s own studies show that this fat-free and 1% low-fat school milk is among the most frequently discarded items. The entire deal ignores the fact that the dietary guidelines have exacerbated the obesity and diabetes trend, that children are not getting the valuable nutrients from the milk they are served if they don’t like the taste of fat-free and 1% and throw it away to buy something else. And the deal further ignores studies showing that body fatness was lower and Vit. D status higher in children drinking whole milk as compared with children drinking 1% low-fat milk. What will it take to see positive change when the very government figure who was influential in getting us here is now the dairy industry leader that the industry organizations revere and who is looked at by USDA, Congress and other policymakers as speaking for dairy? If he took whole milk out of the schools, and he now ‘speaks for dairy’ and is ‘believed’ to be so concerned about kids, who else matters in the discussion? Does the government care about the over 15,000 online and 5000 by mail signatures of dairy farmers, parents, grandparents, students, teachers, coaches, school boards, town boards, county commissioners, state lawmakers, health experts, nutrition experts, athletes, nurses, doctors, and generally comcerned citizens among these signatures asking for the choice of whole milk in schools

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Politics of whole milk: Dairies go bankrupt, Vilsack gets top pay

When it comes to ‘politics,’ DMI talks out of both sides of the mouth: Top paid executive Tom Vilsack shown here in June asking Senate Ag Committee for government ‘support’ to pay DMI’s ‘pilot farms’ to develop practices for ‘U.S. Dairy’ to reach Net Zero emissions. But ask if DMI can  support whole milk in schools and the response is: “Oh no, that is ‘political’ and we aren’t ‘allowed’ to be ‘political.'” Truth is, DMI’s current top-paid executive — Tom Vilsack — is the one who while serving as Ag Secretary, spearheaded the removal of whole milk from schools in the first place.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

The former Ag Secretary who was instrumental in removing Whole Milk from schools is now the highest-paid executive at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) whose virtual $1 million/year in 2018 came from mandatory checkoff funds paid by dairy farmers who are going bankrupt. 

On Monday (Dec. 2), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that their early look at DMI’s IRS 990 forms for fiscal 2018 show that Tom Vilsack became the highest paid DMI executive earning $999,921 in 2018, which was his first full year as an executive vice president of DMI, president and CEO of DMI’s U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and defacto leader of the Net Zero Project and sustainability and innovation platforms of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Let’s go back a decade. Think back to 2009. The bottom fell out of the dairy markets. It was arguably the worst of economic times in memory for dairy farmers as farm level milk prices fell to $10, and equity in the value of cow herds plummeted. 

As farmers were busy trying to save their farms, and the industry and lawmakers were busy outwardly debating National Milk’s version of “supply management” in the Farm Bill that year, dairy leaders and regulators holding overlapping former and current positions within USDA, DMI, NMPF, DFA and IDFA, began charting a future for dairy in terms of pursuing international dominance, developing “sustainability” frameworks, partnering for “innovation”, and focusing on the zone of investment for consolidating the milk production footprint with ultrafiltration technology as the way to move milk without the water.

It all fits together, like pieces of a puzzle — with no picture on the box to show outwardly what it will all look like when complete.

Back in 2010, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was busy on “sustainability” and getting fairlife ‘the better milk’ up and going, with the DMI Innovation Center’s sustainability council leader being none other than Fair Oaks’ / fairlife’s Dr. Mike McCloskey. 

Then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was busy too that year. In addition to restricting school milk to fat-free and 1% and promulgating rules that listed Whole Milk as “prohibited” on school grounds during school hours, Vilsack was signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) with National Dairy Council to create GENYOUth to promote that dogma, and with DMI to link the “sustainability” framework of Vilsack’s USDA to the “sustainability” framework of DMI’s fledgling Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dairy farmers were coming out of 2008-09 devastation — starved for good news — and were encouraged by all this talk of innovation and sustainability and international markets because they thought it meant the industry was looking to sell more milk and dairy products in such a way as to raise prices paid to them for their milk. 

Who could question this high pursuit of innovation and sustainability and exports – right? That’s the trifecta, the holy grail.

2014’s high milk prices seemed to validate that all was going to be right with the dairy world. But most were not paying attention to the USDA / DMI alliance that was formed and growing — and what it might mean for the future.

Quietly – without much fanfare or protest – USDA began tightening milk restrictions in the school lunch program during this time. In fact, so quiet was this shift that many parents to this day do not realize their kids are getting watered-down milk, cheese, imitation butter, and half-beef-half-soy patties at school.

As the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were implemented, a democrat-controlled Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act – under the avid lobbying efforts of President Obama’s USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for the legislation that would tighten school lunch screws even more.

The dairy checkoff had already been called “government speech” in its 2005 Supreme Court defense, so with USDA’s blessing and encouragement – under Vilsack – the low-fat and fat-free dogma became entrenched and proliferated through the GENYOUth alliance. 

And it set the stage for a new era in dairy that today’s leaders speak of. We are hearing it now. A recent DFA newsletter tells members “milk must evolve to remain relevant.” DFA / NMPF chairman Randy Mooney stated last month that the industry needs to consolidate plants to make new products. Northeast DFA leaders heard from a food science writer and DMI contractor about how dairy proteins will complete plant-based diets during their recent meeting in Syracuse. Dairy dilution is all around us. And the industry points to Dean Foods’ bankruptcy as proof that Real Whole Milk isn’t good enough, isn’t sustainable. (Well, of course not, no one is truly marketing it and the government thanks to Vilsack is prohibiting kids from having it. This is not rocket science folks.)

Yes, folks, hindsight is 20/20. And here we are on the eve of 2020 with former Ag Secretary Vilsack – who was paid a $999,421 salary in 2018 from mandatory dairy producer checkoff funds and is now the top-paid DMI executive — to thank for the removal of Whole Milk and whole dairy products from our schools.

And no one cares to ask him to testify to Congress about why Whole Milk should be allowed in schools, but he is politically involved endorsing presidential candidates and writing their rural platforms, testifying in so many other discussions, including climate change and sustainability and seeking Senate approval of funds for Net Zero pilot farms.

Yes, folks, the dairy industry had and has Tom Vilsack — or vice versa.

See part two.

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