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.

Change is needed, declares Rep. G.T. Thompson

Decline of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry noted

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 19, 2021

EAST EARL, Pa. – “We cannot continue to do what we are doing from a dairy pricing perspective and expect better results,” said Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), named ranking member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in December. 

Known as an advocate for dairy farmers, Thompson cited the decline in dairy farms and Pennsylvania’s position in rankings, noting that in 2009, when he was first elected to serve central and northern Pennsylvania in the U.S. Congress, Pennsylvania ranked 5th in the nation for dairy production with 545,000 cows. 

A decade later, at the end of 2020, Pennsylvania slipped to eighth in production and has lost 67,000 cows since 2009. USDA reported 478,000 milk cows in the Keystone State at the end of last year with production in Michigan, Texas and now Minnesota leapfrogging Pennsylvania over the past decade.

In 2019, alone, Thompson took note of the 370 dairy farms that exited in Pennsylvania, with a huge impact on rural communities. He also observed the more than 10% loss in cows and production over 10 years during a telephone conference with members of the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, whom he thanked for all of their hard work on dairy issues.

He stressed that the decade of decline in Pennsylvania underscores how important it is to address the loss of milk check value at the farm level.

“Everyone in the dairy supply chain clearly can’t do what has always been done and expect different results,” he said, adding that a change is needed to benefit dairy farmers and that “the rest of the supply chain will have to adjust. We can’t sustain these decade long trends without further disruption. We have seen the impact already.”

Thompson said his dairy pricing initiative is straight forward, to look for “actionable measures that allow hardworking dairy farmers to earn a respectful living. Doing that will stabilize the economic circumstances so the other parts of the supply chain will adapt. If dairy farmers keep going down, we lose our industry, so serious steps must be taken toward economic stability.”

He talked about working as Ag ranking member to have Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing hearings, and he noted that the next Farm Bill offers an opportunity to modernize milk pricing, but it will take industrywide consensus, he said.

To get even a short-term fix for the losses due to negative PPDs before the next Farm Bill will be tough and will require action and agreement by NMPF and IDFA.

“Our best hope in the short term is to get the milk classes back into alignment (in regard to PPD), and work on building consensus for long term resiliency heading into the next Farm Bill,” said Thompson.

As for school milk, Thompson said he planned to restructure his whole milk for healthy kids legislation for reintroduction this session, with some tweaks that make it more workable for schools.

This is an important signature piece of legislation for Thompson because of the triple-impact he believes it will have on the health of children, the economics of dairy farming and the sustenance of rural communities.

Since the Senate ag committee has jurisdiction in school meals, where in the House, the jurisdiction lies with the education and labor committee, Thompson said he has already discussed the measure with the Republican leader in the Senate Ag Committee, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.

Thompson also believes there are members of the House Ag Committee who want to elevate this issue, which could include congressional hearings on the Dietary Guidelines. He said that process would start out with briefings to returning and incoming members about the DGAs so they have background on the issue.

With former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack picked to return to the USDA post in the Biden administration, Thompson said he will be weighing in with Vilsack to encourage maintaining the 1% flavored milk waivers and about further school milk reform. He said he is hopeful about Vilsack’s support for a whole milk measure.

Thompson noted that reforms to milk offerings in schools could also come from the Senate side if Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow opens the door with childhood nutrition reauthorization, but that, “Nothing will move out of the Senate that is not strongly bipartisan, so spending time on the Senate side building bipartisan support will be important,” he said.

While incoming House Ag Committee chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) has priorities and a history of bipartisan action, dairy is not among his biggest focal points, which leaves room for Thompson, as ranking member, to advance dairy as his priority working with the chairman.

Bottom line, the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee will be working to help build consensus for milk pricing reform, and many of the Farm Bureau ideas look promising. The challenge will be getting NMPF and IDFA to come together around shared priorities to benefit dairy farmers in the pricing system, but that effort has begun.

One thing is clear, the House Ag ranking member G.T. Thompson sees the farmer’s position in the current pricing equation as inadequate.

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NY Senate Ag hearing: Ag law attorney (and farmer) shares her concerns for family dairy farms

Session 2 of the February New York Senate Ag Committee listening tour via zoom found Lorraine Lewandrowski sharing her concerns for family farms and face-to-face, virtually, with Senator Jabari Brisport, who sits on the Ag Committee. “Rural New York has been viciously neglected,” she said. “Senator, I heard your words as you led a rally in New York City calling for New York’s dairy farms to die. Your exact words: ‘Let dairy die the death it needs to die’… I will not forget your cruel words directed to the working farmers of this state whom I know and love.”

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 12, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. — “Danger knocked on New York’s doors when the World Trade Centers went down. Hunger knocked hard on our doors during Covid,” said Lorraine Lewandrowski, agricultural law attorney and dairy producer near Herkimer, N.Y., during one of New York State Senate Ag Committee’s recent hearings organized by Senator Michelle Hinchey, chairwoman.

Lorraine Lewandrowski at a dairy summit in Albany in 2018 before Covid relegated such events to the virtual zone.

Lewandrowski has been a tireless advocate and activist for dairy and livestock agriculture, making connections in all sorts of ways for the people of her beloved farmscapes of New York and the greater Northeast.

“Our food model is based on faraway sources while we throw our rural communities away,” Lewandrowski told the New York senators. “Farmers here are asking for crumbs. The big money is in the port capacity being ramped up for imports.”

In her testimony, Lewandrowski detailed several key issues facing dairy farmers and rural communities in the Northeast. Other farmers and dairy producers, along with representatives of farm organizations, farm markets, Farm Credit, FFA, urban food programs, and academia, were also on the hearing docket.

Describing dairy farmers as ‘price takers’ without real bargaining power, Lewandrowski called the milk pricing formula “broken and antiquated and in need of investigation.”

One of the biggest surprises for New York State Senators was Lewandrowski’s request that the state legislature legalize whole milk in schools.

“Make it legal for a New York State student to have a glass of fresh whole milk – a beautiful food from a beautiful land,” she said.

During questions, senators expressed their surprise about this and indicated a real desire to do something about it at the state level, despite the federal government’s heavy-handed USDA National School Lunch rules. If more states took action, perhaps the tide could turn.

On the milk pricing system, Lewandrowski pointed out that since May of 2020, the current pricing formula “has extracted billions of dollars” from dairy farmers’ milk checks, and she urged the committee to investigate how this is impacting New York State dairy farmers. She urged them to look at Farm Bureau’s work on this topic.

With ongoing concerns about market transparency and competitiveness, she referenced a 2019 GAO report requested by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, looking at dairy cooperative consolidation and what this means for New York.

Referencing a ‘cow islands’ map produced a few years ago by Dr. Mark Stephenson, Lewandrowski said milk production is rapidly consolidating with more cows located on fewer and ever-larger farms in fewer regions.

“Thirty-thousand and 100,000 cow operations have arisen, some in dry regions. Contrast ‘cow islands’ with the emptied-out New York farmscapes,” she said, lamenting a Cornell report “Green Grass, Green Money” citing over 3 million acres of abandoned farms and former grazing lands in New York even though “New York equals powerful rainfed landscapes.”

Lewandrowski stressed that farmers need more lending and financing options and resources to understand new “ecosystem markets.” She indicated state legislatures can take the lead in helping prepare farmers for the future with allocation of informational and financial resources to navigate new ideas and income streams. Her fear, she indicated, is that a centralized approach will create winners and losers across regions and farm sizes.

In making her most impassioned point of the day on communications with New York City, Lewandrowski said: “We want to speak, as farmers, with the New York City Council and urban leaders. Why can’t we have a Jacob Javits Center Farm Show, a farm show like they have in Paris, or an office for New York’s farm groups in New York City or an online hub to connect farmers with urban groups looking for speakers?”

She talked about the screening of the dairy-focused Forgotten Farms film a year ago, just before the Covid pandemic. So many rural urban connections were made, but the linkages between rural New York and urban NYC need to continue and be constant.

Rural trauma was her final thought for the committee. As an agricultural law attorney, Lewandrowski sees so many concerning and desperate cases.

She bluntly addressed Senator Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, who is a new member of the NY Senate Ag Committee, about his own comments as a vegan activist, and the damage such comments do to New York’s own rural farmers.

“Rural New York has been viciously neglected. When farmers come to my office and tell me they feel dead, I worry,” said Lewandrowski. “This is directed to Senator Brisport: Senator, I heard your words as you led a rally in New York City calling for New York’s dairy farms to die. Your exact words: ‘Let dairy die the death it needs to die.’ Two hundred miles away, I was dealing with a woman who found her son hanging dead in the barn, too ashamed to speak of his death.

“Senator Brisport, I will not forget your cruel words directed to the working farmers of this state whom I know and love,” Lewandrowski said candidly. Dairywoman Tammy Gendron of Willet also referenced concerns about Sen. Brisport’s activism against dairy and livestock production in her comments later in the session.

During questions, Senator Brisport apologized for his word choice of “death” when speaking about dairy at the vegan rally, but he stated that as a sitting Senator on the New York Senate Ag Committee: “I don’t believe dairy should exist, just as I don’t believe any animal agriculture should exist, so you can count me as a ‘no’ vote on any whole milk in schools…”

He also noted one of his focuses is farm workers and asked for more details on collective bargaining from Lewandrowski’s testimony. He was keying-in on worker bargaining and totally missing the point that farmer-owner-operators have little bargaining power as cooperatives they own are consolidating and joint-venturing as processing entities.

Lewandrowski provided information about antitrust interpretations and consolidation in the industry to massive corporations that prevent farmers from collectively setting a good price for their milk.

Basically, she said, “we should be looking at revitalization and re-regionalization of our food production and processing facilities, so we have smaller cheese plants or vegetable processing or meat processing, where the farmers have a choice with competition for their product. We have lost so much of the food processing in New York. This committee could really help with that by making financing available to revitalize regional processing and brands to serve our Big Apple and our other cities.”

Senator George Borrello thanked Lewandrowski for her comments and passion. “Dairy in NYS is a very different business… 90% or more of our farms are family run businesses. Therefore, you will see these animals treated much more humanely. If we lose our dairy farms that are handling animals in New York State, we are going to be relying on farms elsewhere. The demand is not going to go away, so why don’t we ensure it’s from our farms in New York State,” said Borrello.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi took hold of the issues of whole milk in schools and communication between rural and urban New York. Much back and forth brainstorming ensued.

“There’s a lot to action in what you have shared,” Biaggi pointed out, citing first the unbelievable fact that whole milk is prohibited in schools.

“I thought you were joking,” the Senator said.

Lewandrowski talked about the 30,000-signature petition (over 24,000 online and over 6,000 by mail) that had been submitted to USDA and members of Congress, and she gave some of the background in regard to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

“Whole milk is a really tremendous product, and it is our most local product, fresh and produced 365 days a year,” she said.

When asked about the fat, Lewandrowski noted that the DGAs don’t reflect the current science on milkfat and saturated fat, in general, and especially for children.

“The fat is not very high. In reality, it’s standardized to 3.25% fat. Skim milk and 1% and 2% are not much behind that, but dairy as a whole product provides better satiety… so children may eat less junk food, and it may be easier to digest,” Lewandrowski noted. “As farmers in the Northeast, our best aspect is that we are local and produce fresh whole milk.”

Biaggi also stressed that one of the best things about New York is the Upstate being “full of possibilities, if we invested in it.”

She asked: “How did we get to a place where we’ve essentially abandoned the farms, the Upstate?”

Identifying the issue as cultural, pointing out how the cities in France are so proud of their rural areas, Lewandrowski asked the NY Senate Ag Committee to help facilitate connections between rural farms and urban leaders.

“I think there’s a real desire in our urban areas to learn more, so we ask for the committee to help us tap into that,” said Lewandrowski, citing many of the farm-city events she has taken part in, but looking for structural connections that continue and have meaning at the policy level.

Biaggi said this is one of the most important areas for the future of New York State, bridging the Upstate / Downstate, especially where food and agriculture are concerned.

Regulatory issues, workforce and lending resources, as well as gaps in the food system and examples of how locally produced food was diverted to nonprofits for giving during Covid were other major topics highlighted during the hearing.

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Dairy milk: The rest of the story on milk fat and fraud

Dairy milk consumption has two faces: nutrition and sustainability. Aside from a small percentage of healthy fat and more protein than the knock-offs, dairy milk is fresher than soy, almond, coconut, oat and other counterfeit ‘milks.’ In fact, it is so locally produced and bottled that it is also much better for the health of local economies and environment. Have you seen any almond, coconut or cashew trees on the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S.? As for oat beverage, most of the oats are harvested in Canada and processed in Asia. Here in the Northeast U.S., there are millions of acres of grasslands and croplands that provide habitat for wildlife, filter rainwater, hold soil in place, maintain open spaces, photosynthesize carbon from the air, keep something growing on the land year-round as cover crop and forage, and create jobs and economic stimulus that all begin with land being managed by dairy farmers. A dairy cow can eat grass, hay, whole corn plant silage, and other roughage grown on marginal lands. These forage crops are 50 to 70 percent of the dairy cow’s diet, and she will turn them into nutrients we can use in the form of nutrient-dense milk and dairy products we love. How cool is that?

By Sherry Bunting

We read about and see the growing number of choices in the dairy aisle that make a simple trip to the store for milk, one that can be quite confusing. There’s the thing about fat (all those different percentages) and the thing about fraud (all those plant, nut, and bean drink products calling themselves ‘milk.’)

First, the different “percentage milks” we know as skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole milk. The latter is confusing, is it 100 percent milk? Do some people think it is 100% fat?

Well, all dairy milk is 100 percent milk, no mater what the fat percentage… But, No: Whole milk is not 100 percent fat. It is not even 10 percent fat. It is standardized to 3.25 percent fat, and if you drank it straight from the cow it would be anywhere from 3 to 5 percent fat depending on breed of cow, time of year, and type of roughage fed.

And then there is protein. Did you know dairy milk provides a little over 8 grams of protein per 8 oz. serving? It packs quite a bit more protein-punch than almond ‘milk’ at a little over 1 gram of protein per 8 oz. serving.

Made like coffee, the crushed almonds are filtered with water. In fact, an 8 oz. serving of almond milk may be more like eating an almond and drinking a glass of water with sugar and thickeners added and a handful of other ingredients.

A common almondmilk brand label lists these ingredients the first being almondmilk defined as almond-filtered water: Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamine E Acetate, Zinc Gloconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2.

A typical dairy milk label lists these ingredients: Milk, Vitamin D3. Pretty simple to see that the calcium and vitamins on the milk label are already in the milk and that zero sugar is added and zero thickeners.

The freshness of REAL dairy milk can’t be beat going from farm to table in 24 to 48 hours. It comes naturally from the cow providing the natural proteins and calcium and small amounts of healthy fat that our bodies readily absorb and utilize.

In fact, the carb-to-protein ratio of chocolate milk is now shown to be one of the best sports-recovery drinks on the market today. Yes, plain ‘ole chocolate milk. Maybe if farmers call it by another name, consumers will take notice to what has been in front of them all along.

Still, for many consumers, the perception persists that whole milk is a high-fat beverage, when in reality it is practically 97 percent fat free!

At the bottling plant, milk is pasteurized and standardized. Cream is skimmed to package whole milk at 3.25 precent fat. The skimmed cream—along with additional cream skimmed to bottle the 1% and 2% and non-fat milks—is then used to make other products like butter, ice cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and dips.

The “standard of identity” for yogurt states it also contain a minimum of 3.25% fat—just like whole milk.

Even ice cream is not 100 percent fat. The FDA standard of identity is that it contain a minimum of 10 percent fat. Some of the richer, higher-end ice creams contain up to 14 percent fat. But along with that fat, comes some nutritional benefits. These are not empty calories.

Butter is high in fat because it is, after all, a fat. Even it ranges 82 to 84 percent fat. A tablespoon of butter in the pan or on your veggies is a smaller quantity serving than an 8 oz. glass of milk; so even though the fat content is much more concentrated at a higher percentage, no one sits down and eats a cup of butter (2 sticks)!

Furthermore, we have learned that the saturated fat in milk and meat are not bad for us and that when part of a healthy integrated diet may actually provide heart healthy ‘good’ cholesterol.

The fears ingrained over 50 years of low-fat dogma are being abandoned as a nutritional experiment that has failed miserably, even though the federal government continues to hang on to the failed lowfat experiment in the recent 202-25 Dietary Guidelines.

What a growing number of scientists have found is that we need not have blamed whole milk, butter—or beef for that matter—all of these years. In fact, the recent rise in obesity and diabetes is linked more to overconsumption of carbohydrates that have filled the energy-void after we collectively sucked healthy fat out of our diets.

Saturated fats are not the enemy, the “new” science shows. However, the science is really not new. Long-time observers, investigative reporters, and scientists note that the very science supporting the health benefits of saturated fats found in milk and meat has been around for decades, but was ignored — even buried.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer demand for butter has been expanding, and worldwide demand for U.S.-produced ice cream and yogurt has grown as well. Dairy foods and snacks that offer an energy boost with a healthy protein-to-energy ratio—such as yogurt, whole milk, and even ice cream—will be particularly in demand in nations where busy, on-the-go consumers look for reviving options.

Healthy, natural fat and protein from milk and meat keep food cravings at bay to prevent binge-eating on empty-carb snacks. Enjoyed as part of a healthy integrated diet, dairy products—even ice cream—are satisfying, nutrient-dense, carb-moderating foods that can even be the dieter’s best friend.

Go real, go natural. There’s no reason to fear real milk, dairy and beef products from cattle. Contrary to what the activists say and contrary to government ‘guidelines’ that refused again to consider all the science, nutrient-dense full-fat dairy foods and meat are good for us, and yes, good for the planet.

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Farmers question dairy checkoff leaders during 2020 meeting on Pennsylvania farm

By Sherry Bunting, published a year ago (pre-pandemic), Farmshine, March 11, 2020

PARKESBURG, Pa. — The promotion of fluid milk, especially whole milk, was top of mind for approximately 120 dairy farmers, many of them Amish, who gathered at a dairy farm near Parkesburg, Pennsylvania last Thursday (March 5) for a question and answer session with two top representatives of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) – Marilyn Hershey, DMI chairwoman and UDIA board member along with Lucas Lentsch, UDIA executive vice president.

DMI manages the national dairy checkoff and is the board that brings together the National Dairy Board and the federation of state and regional promotion boards that make up the United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) — under DMI’s unified marketing plan.

The farmers came equipped with information, questions and concerns around several key topics with much of the discussion centering on whole milk promotion. This was clearly at odds with DMI’s emphasis on cheese and other dairy products through a decade of “partnerships doing the advertising for us,” as it was explained.

Case in point, at the outset of the meeting, Marilyn Hershey stated that “consumers are not drinking dairy. Today, they are eating more of their dairy.”

Lucas Lentsch, who covers producer relations and oversees the federation of state and regional promotion boards under UDIA, stressed that “consumers can’t be educated to drink something. We have the consumer insights… and we have to move to where the consumers are.”

“These are tense times in the dairy industry, and we need to remain respectful,” said Simeon Beiler as he moderated the discussion. He and Melvin Stoltzfus and Steve Stoltzfus organized the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours and became heated at points when several key questions of fact, as well as questions of direction and board make-up and decision-making were left unanswered.

Also tense, were points at which Hershey and Lentsch — as well as other promotion board representatives in the audience — claimed that whole milk sales have been rising for years because of checkoff-funded efforts in research and in-store stocking and promotion programs. The checkoff leaders even questioned the impact of the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free campaign started by Nelson Troutman’s Milk Baleboards in January 2019 — going so far as to say that while they appreciate these grassroots efforts, the message is “confusing consumers.”

DMI chair Marilyn Hershey and UDIA executive vice president Lucas Lentsch take questions from farmers at the March 2020 meeting in southeast Pennsylvania.

Hershey told the group of her background growing up on a dairy farm and today operating a dairy with her husband in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She said she has enjoyed serving producers and feels DMI “can make a difference so that dairy farmers can do what we do best – produce milk.” She has been involved in dairy promotion for nearly seven years, today serving on the UDIA board, which led to becoming DMI chairwoman almost three years ago.

Lentsch introduced himself as growing up on a dairy farm in South Dakota, serving in the military and coming home to be appointed as the state’s secretary of agriculture. Then, four years ago, he became CEO of Midwest Dairy Association before taking the national job this year with UDIA. He talked about taking seriously “the servant leadership mindset” of “working for real people who make this country great.”

Lentsch repeatedly took note that there are facts and there are perspectives and that the perspectives in the room may be different, but he was “loving the dialog and wanting to do the work that benefits farmers.”

At several points, Hershey shared that the DMI board “doesn’t work that way” or the way people seem to think it does — in terms of how the goals and perspectives of the group of attending farmers could be met.

Lacking throughout the discussion was the ability to answer specific questions on points of fact as Hershey described the relationship dairy farmers have with the National Football League (NFL). For example, she said the NFL players are “invested” in the work of getting breakfast carts to hungry children and that the week spent at Super Bowl venues begins a year in advance raising money from other businesses to fund breakfast carts for schools in the host city.

When asked specifically about what Super Bowl perks and expenses are paid with checkoff funds for board members, Hershey avoided the question and picked up in a different aspect, saying $820,000 was raised for breakfast carts last year when the Super Bowl was in Atlanta.

A follow up question was asked about what the dairy farmers’ checkoff investment is in GENYOUth that leads to those monies being raised. That question was not answered either.

A second follow up question was asked about what the more than $5 million represents, which was paid by DMI to the NFL in each of at least two years of IRS 990 forms (2016 and 2017), listing only the top five independent contract recipients, NFL being one of the top five.

Hershey and Lentsch seemed surprised by the question, and neither could nor would answer it, saying they would find out. However, this question had been asked by farmers in the past and by at least one reporter in a previous meeting as well as in writing, with yet no answer.

Congruent to the Super Bowl and GENYOUth questions were those about why all milk promotion is focused on fat-free and low-fat. Farmers wanted to know why DMI cannot support the choice of whole milk in schools (more on that in a future article).

In fact, the very first question asked by moderator Simeon Beiler — who fielded written questions from the attending farmers as well as calling upon farmers to ask their questions directly – was this one: “Why do we not see DMI-financed promotion of whole milk?”

Lentsch stopped the answering of that question by first asking the group to pause and look at the history of the dairy checkoff, which was legislated as mandatory in 1983 when he said there were 500 warehouses full of cheese and butter bought by the government.

“They weren’t going to keep doing that,” said Lentsch, explaining that dairy checkoff was implemented so that dairy farmers could “be a voice for themselves in promotion and research.”

In those 35 years, U.S. milk production has gone from 140 billion pounds annually to 220 billion pounds, Lentsch said.

As the conversation continued, it became clear that dairy checkoff — rather than being a way for farmers to “be a voice for themselves” — could be more aptly described as a voice for the government and its partners.

Why? Because the answers on the whole milk promotion question were given in contradictory ways as Hershey and Lentsch each explained their understandings of the government’s oversight.

“A few years ago, USDA made a rule not to support whole milk and we (checkoff) are held under that jurisdiction, but we can do research,” said Hershey, adding that there are 63 research papers in support of whole milk. She said that they explain the value of whole milk for children, but that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are not wavering, and DMI “can’t get involved in political battles because it’s the preponderance of the evidence” that governs this.

Lentsch stated that it all goes back to the Dietary Guidelines, and he seemed to make a distinction about the difference between what can be promoted in general and what can be promoted in schools.

A follow up question was asked as to why Allied Milk Producers — a qualified milk promotion and research program based in Pennsylvania that can receive the dime for regional promotion nationwide – why they can put up “Whole Milk, whole nutrition, naturally” billboards and DMI maintains that it can’t do something similar.

Hershey stated that she sees these billboards when traveling, but that, “USDA never regulated Allied on this, but USDA could if it wanted to.”

From the audience, Mike Eby, a former Allied board member, stated: “It’s my understanding that Allied is under the same jurisdiction of USDA as any other checkoff organization.”

This is where Lentsch intervened to say there is a difference between whole milk promotion in schools, which he said the dairy checkoff cannot do, and whole milk promotion in general.

“USDA adheres to the Dietary Guidelines, and the science that you have funded (through checkoff) on early childhood nutrition shows whole milk is a huge bright spot,” said Lentsch. “That message is getting out, thanks to you for funding the research.”

But when the topic of the research was probed further by the audience, no specific research papers on whole milk were offered as examples. In fact, Hershey mentioned a CNN headline from that morning about a study showing whole milk reduces the likelihood of children becoming overweight or obese. The headline was about a study done in Australia that was similar to a study completed a few months ago in Canada.

The question was asked, specifically, did DMI fund the study in Australia or the one in Canada? Hershey’s answer was “no.”

Hershey also mentioned the 2015 Time Magazine cover “Eat Butter” as based on checkoff research and efforts to get the full-fat dairy message out, and that this changed the conversation on whole milk.

A member of the audience indicated that the Time Magazine article was explained by its author in the preface as being prompted by his review of Nina Teicholz’s international and New York Times best-selling book that year — “Big Fat Surprise” — and that Teicholz’s extensive bibliography only included two studies related to dairy checkoff on full-fat dairy (i.e. cheese and butter). The book mostly exposed the injustice of academics burying science for decades while the world latched onto the low-fat diet propaganda and made it law, so to speak.

There was no answer. No citing of specific checkoff-funded studies on whole milk – as a beverage.

Lentsch stressed that, “The battleground is the Dietary Guidelines. We have the science and the influence to have conversations at the World Health Organization and those conversations are happening at the global scale, to make sure recommendations are science-based.”

“This is the United States of America,” said one Amish attendee. “We know we could be advertising whole milk. The Dietary Guidelines are not operating on true science.”

Lentsch added that checkoff is “promoting whole milk, just not in schools. We can speak of the science. USDA has oversight so at the national level we can only talk about the science.”

Jennifer Heltzel, a dairy producer from Martinsburg, Pa., rose to introduce herself as “your representative on the national board.” She talked about why farmers don’t see the advertising checkoff is doing. “We don’t see it driving down the road. It’s on social media where the consumers are. The Got Milk campaign was an award-winning campaign and it drove awareness, but it did not drive consumption,” she said.

Lentsch added that there are 80,000 SKUs of beverages now available to consumers. “In the 1990s, we saw an explosion of innovation in the amount of choices consumers have today. But the good news is that milk is in 94% of households. It’s the trip-driver so it is very important,” he said. “We work promotion through brands that are facing consumers.”

“We now work with partners like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Taco Bell and McDonalds and they do the advertising for us,” said Hershey. “Taco bell wanted to develop a taco made with cheese (a cheese shell in addition to cheese topping that will be launched this spring). We developed it with them in our kitchens.”

She said that $15 billion in advertising has been used by DMI’s partners since this partnership-style dairy promotion began in 2010.

“It’s a way for us to get our message out,” said Hershey, adding that MilkPEP, the fluid milk processors’ promotion organization is one of DMI’s partners. Fairlife is another example, and she said other dairy beverage brands are coming on as partnerships (more on that in a future article).

Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman (right) and retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey (second from right) stop for a photo while talking with Chester County dairy producers Stan and Cathy Guest as they arrived at the March 5 meeting organized by dairy farmers with two DMI dairy checkoff representatives on the farm of Levi Stoltzfus near Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.

Milk Baleboard originator Nelson Troutman spoke up: “So the government regulates what we can say in school, but what about our partners like McDonalds? You just try once to buy a whole milk at McDonalds. It’s not available. Why can’t that be something we do with our partners?”

Troutman said further that the milk at the local McDonalds in Lebanon, Pennsylvania is zero fat milk from Upstate in New York. “Fluid milk drives the farmer’s milk check,” he said. “Whole milk really drives it. That’s why we’re not happy. We don’t win until they taste the whole milk.”

Another farmer then asked: “Why are our partners doing our advertising?”

Times have changed,” said Hershey. “This is how we do our advertising now and why it looks different.”

Troutman replied that, “This is why the 97% fat free effort is working.”

He was asked by Lentsch, “What are you basing that on? I do see it in your area. I saw one of the round bales driving in.”

Beiler noted that through various means (including web and social media), the 97 Milk message has become national, even worldwide as the British dairy farmers have a similar effort, and farmers from South America have asked to borrow the idea.

Beiler then redirected to ask point-blank: “Are you asking our fast-food ‘partners’ to serve or offer whole milk?”

Lentsch explained that, “McDonalds targets their Happy Meals to shoot for calorie targets. Everything is predicated on what we are allowed to do. I know that sounds like an excuse, but it is a reality.”

Hershey added that all they can do is put the research in front of their partners. She tried to bring the conversation back to DMI’s positive message on cheese consumption. “That is what is helping us right now. Cheese and butter consumption are outpacing production. America loves cheese. We have to figure out how to deliver the cheese.”

“We are in the business of moving dairy consumption,” said Lentsch, noting that 10 pounds of milk make one pound of cheese, saying cheese uses a lot of milk.

This is the point in which the attendees made it clear that if checkoff was started so that producers could speak for themselves and increase demand to return profitability, then “we need to promote whole milk because it drives our profitability.”

“We don’t have big cheese plants here,” said Troutman. “Pennsylvania is a fluid milk state with 12 million people, not to mention cities in other states in our region. Fluid milk sales are what keep farms in business here. That’s why we are talking about fluid milk.

“I hear you,” Lentsch replied. “We are studying dairy innovation, the value of what you produce, and trying to introduce new products. We have consumer insights, and we do some education, but you can’t just keep telling people that milk has 9 essential nutrients.

“We can be mad about what is not happening, or we can move to where the consumers are,” said Lentsch. “You can’t educate them to drink something.”

To which Troutman replied: “Yes we can. And we are! We tell them whole milk is 97% fat free, and we have consumers confirming with us already that this is something they never knew and they want to know more. This is why they have to know what we are selling, to see the 3.25% fat on the label.”

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Free yard signs offered, grassroots effort continues promoting whole milk’s immune boosting nutrition

Bernie Morrissey has boxes of signs getting a bit of a makeover, assembled and available – free – in the Morrissey Insurance vestibule at 890 North Reading Road, Ephrata, Pa., or by visiting Wenger’s of Myerstown or Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland during business hours. “Take only what you will place. They are free,” says Morrissey.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 18, 2021

EPHRATA, Pa. – Now that elections are over, and five more years of Dietary Guidelines were recently announced with the comment period concluded and thousands of comments disregarded — the Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition yard signs are getting a makeover.

The action word “Vote” on the campaign-style yard signs that began popping up last fall has been changed to “Drink”, but the message and reference to 97milk.com remain the same.

These are signs to make people aware of two things:

1) Whole milk is still not allowed as a school lunch choice under current federal rules, and

2) Whole milk is the best way to get Vitamin D and other immune boosting nutrition for children and elderly, whose diets are most controlled by the fat-free and low-fat rules of yet another round of 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey has changed 300 available signs printed with the financial sponsorship of Morrissey Insurance of Ephrata and Troy, Pa.; Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland; and Wenger’s of Myerstown.

“Our main message is the same,” says Morrissey. “News reports increasingly mention vitamin D supporting the immune system in this time of coronavirus pandemic. Even national broadcasts bring on specialists citing research showing the vital role of vitamin D. The best way to get vitamin D is in whole milk, but our children are not permitted to choose whole milk at school. They can only choose fat-free and 1% low-fat milk, according to the federal government’s dietary rules.”

In fact, according to a recent health report aired on several major broadcasting networks, dozens of studies have identified the importance of vitamin D in relation to Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, the medical community identified vitamin D as a nutrient deficiency of concern among Americans.

A huge new study is underway to test causation between higher vitamin D levels and prevention of deaths due to Covid-19 after several smaller studies showed nine out of 10 deaths could have been prevented with adequate vitamin D levels.

Winter and spring are the seasons of concern with Covid-19, and it is the time when vitamin D deficiency is most prevalent, say health professionals in countless interviews.

Vitamin D is one of several fat-soluble vitamins in milk. Vitamin D occurs naturally in the milk fat at some level but is also fortified in milk — and has been for decades because of the longstanding concern about vitamin D deficiency and the importance of vitamin D in conjunction with calcium for strong bones and overall health.

A study at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, Canada, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017, showed children who drank whole milk had up to three times higher absorbed levels of vitamin D compared with children drinking 1% low-fat milk. This study also showed that children drinking whole milk were leaner. They had 40% less risk of becoming overweight than children drinking low-fat milk.

Another study there showed children drinking only non-cow’s milk plant and nut alternatives, which are also fortified with added vitamin D, were twice as likely to be deficient in vitamin D. In fact, the pediatrician researchers stated that, “Among children who drank non-cow’s milk, every additional cup of non-cow’s milk was associated with a five percent drop in vitamin D levels per month.”

“What we are doing with the yard signs and Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted hay bales and banners and the efforts of the 97 Milk education group with their website and social media is all working. The yard signs focus on the nutritional message for our children and elderly that the Dietary Guidelines ignore, which is the immune boosting nutrition of whole milk,” says Morrissey, also pointing out the benefits of whole milk for maintaining a healthy weight and stabilizing metabolism.

“This is a slow process to get things changed in Washington and Harrisburg, but we’re working on it,” he adds, praising the combined efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, as well as all the many people and agribusinesses supporting both grassroots efforts initiated by dairy farmers.

Morrissey said the 300 Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com yard signs are available in the vestibule at Morrissey Insurance at 890 North Reading Road, Ephrata, Pa. Signs are also available at Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland and Wenger’s of Myerstown during business hours.

“These yard signs are free because of the three businesses that paid for them – Morrissey, Sensenig’s and Wenger’s. Come and get them, but take only what you will place,” says Morrissey, wanting to be sure signs are put out for others to see, and learn and question and get involved.

Producers and other businesses wanting to sponsor the continued printing of more yard signs, or those with questions about how to participate from other areas, contact Bernie Morrissey from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at 610.693.6471.

Find even more good news about whole milk and dairy foods at 97milk.com

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U.S. ‘Dietary Guidelines’ released in wake of continued failures, Checkoff and industry organizations ‘applaud’

More than a decade of research on saturated fat is again ignored: A look at the reality of where we are and how we got here.

On the surface, the broad brush language of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines looks and sounds good. But the devil is in the details.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 15, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Make every bite count.” That’s the slogan of the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released Tuesday, December 29 by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).

In the webcast announcement from Washington, the focus was described as helping Americans meet nutritional needs primarily from nutrient-dense ‘forms’ of foods and beverages. However, because of the continued restriction on saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories, some of the most nutrient-dense foods took the biggest hits.

For example, the 2020-25 DGA executive summary describes the Dairy Group as “including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and/or lactose-free versions, and fortified soy beverages and yogurt.” 

Even though the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines exclude important dairy products from the Dairy Food Group and continue to restrict whole milk and full-fat cheese with implications for school meals, the checkoff-funded National Dairy Council says “Dairy organizations applaud.” Screenshot at https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/dairy

At the newly re-launched MyPlate website, exclusions are listed, stating “the Dairy Group does not include foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content, such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter.”

In fact, the webcast announcement flashed a slide of MyPlate materials showing consumers how to customize favorite meals for so-called ‘nutrient density’. The example was a burrito bowl, before and after applying the DGAs. Two recommended ‘improvements’ were to remove the sour cream and to replace ‘cheese’ with ‘reduced-fat cheese.’

For the first time, the DGAs included recommendations for birth to 2 years of age. The new toddler category is the only age group (up to age 2) where whole milk is recommended.

The 2020-25 DGAs “approve” just three dietary patterns for all stages of lifespan: Heathy U.S., Vegetarian, and Mediterranean. Of the three, two include 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy and one includes 2 to 2.5 cups low-fat and fat-free dairy. Protein recommendations range 2 to 7 ounces. All 3 dietary patterns are heavy on fruits, vegetables and especially grains. 

In short, the DGA Committee, USDA and HHS collectively excluded the entire past decade of research on saturated fat. Throughout the DGA process, many in the nutrition science and medical communities asked the federal government to add another dietary pattern choice that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein with a less restrictive saturated fat level — especially given the government’s own numbers shared in the Dec. 29 announcement that, today, 60% of adults have one or more diet-related chronic illnesses, 74% of adults are overweight or obese, and 40% of children are overweight or obese.

USDA and HHS shared these statistics during the announcement of the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines. The next slide stated the reason for the worsening obesity and chronic diet-related disease rates is that Americans are not following the Guidelines. And yet, this progression has a marked beginning with the 1980s start of Dietary Guidelines and has accelerated in children during the 10 years since USDA linked rules for school and daycare meals more directly to the Guidelines in 2010.

Ultimately, the 2020-25 DGAs fulfilled what appears to be a predetermined outcome by structuring its specific and limiting questions to set up the research review in a way that builds on previous cycles. This, despite letters signed by over 50 members of Congress, hundreds of doctors, as well as a research review conducted by groups of scientists that included former DGA Committee members — all critical of the DGA process. 

As current research points out, saturated fat is not consumed by itself. It is part of a nutrient-dense package that supplies vitamins and minerals the DGA Committee, itself, recognized their approved dietary patterns lack. Full-fat dairy foods and meats have complex fat profiles, including saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats, CLAs and omegas.

But USDA and HHS chose to ignore the science, and the dairy and beef checkoff and industry organizations ‘applauded.’

National Dairy Council ‘applauds,’ NCBA ‘thrilled’

Both the checkoff-funded National Dairy Council (NDC) and checkoff-funded self-described Beef Board contractor National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) were quick to respond with public statements.

An NCBA spokesperson was quoted in several mainstream articles saying beef producers are “thrilled with the new guidelines affirming lean beef in a healthy diet.”

NDC stated in the subject line of its news release to media outlets that “dairy organizations applaud affirmation of dairy’s role in new Dietary Guidelines.”

The NDC news release stated: “Daily inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods is recommended in all three DGA healthy dietary patterns. Following the guidelines is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The dairy checkoff news release also identified nutrient deficiencies that are improved by consuming dairy but failed to mention how fat in whole milk, full-fat cheese and other dairy products improves nutrient absorption.

Checkoff-funded NDC’s news release described the DGAs as “based on a sound body of peer-reviewed research.” The news release further identified the guidelines’ continued saturated fat limits at no more than 10% of calories but did not take the opportunity to mention the excluded peer-reviewed research showing saturated fat, milkfat, whole milk and full-fat dairy foods are beneficial for health, vitamin D and other nutrient absorption, all-cause mortality, satiety, carbohydrate metabolism, type 2 diabetes and neutral to beneficial in terms of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

They did not take the opportunity to encourage future consideration of the ignored body of research. Even National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) included a fleeting mention of its hopes for future fat flexibility in its own DGA congratulatory news release.

The checkoff-funded NDC news release did reveal its key priority: Sustainability. This topic is not part of the guidelines, but NDC made sustainability a part of their news release about the guidelines, devoting one-fourth of their communication to this point, listing “sustainable food systems” among its “dietary” research priorities, and stating the following:

“While these Guidelines don’t include recommendations for sustainable food systems, the U.S. dairy community has commitments in place to advance environmental sustainability,” the National Dairy Council stated in its DGA-applauding news release. “Earlier (in 2020), the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals, which include achieving carbon neutrality or better, optimizing water usage and improving water quality.”

(Remember, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher told farm reporters in December that “sustainable nutrition” will be the new phrase. It is clear that the dairy checkoff is on-board the ‘planetary diets’ train).

International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also issued news releases praising the inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy in the DGAs and upholding the guidelines as ‘science-based.’

According to the Nutrition Coalition, and a panel of scientists producing a parallel report showing the nutrient-dense benefits of unprocessed meat and full fat dairy as well as no increased risk of heart disease or diabetes, the 2020-25 DGAs excluded more than a decade of peer-reviewed saturated fat research right from the outset.

The exclusion of a decade or more of scientific evidence sends a clear message from the federal government — the entrenched bureaucracy — that it does not intend to go back and open the process to true scientific evaluation. In this way, the DGAs dovetail right into ‘sustainable nutrition’ and ‘planetary diets’ gradually diluting animal protein consumption as part of the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset for food transformationEAT Lancet style.

So, while dairy checkoff is applauding the DGAs, dairy producers are lamenting the way the guidelines rip key products right out of the dairy food group.

Saturated fat and added sugars combined

A less publicized piece of the DGA combines saturated fat and added sugars. In addition to no more than 10% of each, the new DGAs state no more than 15% of any combination of the two.

The 2020-25 DGAs limit saturated fat and added sugar each to 10% of calories; however, both are combined at 15% of daily calories.

This detail could impact the way schools, daycares and other institutional feeding settings manage the calorie levels of both below that 10% threshold to comply with USDA oversight of the combined 15%.

These two categories could not be more different. Saturated fat provides flavor plus nutritional function as part of nutrient-dense foods, whereas added sugar provides zero nutritional function, only flavor. 

USDA and HHS fail

During the DGA webcast announcement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said: “The new Dietary Guidelines are focused on nutrient dense foods and are based on a robust body of nutritional scientific evidence to make every bite count.”

However, Perdue failed to acknowledge any role for the robust scientific evidence that was completely excluded from consideration in the process, nor did he acknowledge the stacked-against-fat formation of the DGA Committee, especially the subcommittee handling the 2020 dietary fats questions.

Perdue talked about how the guidelines are there to help Americans make healthy choices. He repeatedly used the term “nutrient dense foods” to describe dietary patterns that are notably lacking in nutrient dense foods – so much so that even the DGA Committee admitted in its final live session last summer that the approved dietary patterns leave eaters, especially children and elderly, deficient in key vitamins and minerals.

(Last summer in their final session, members of the DGA Committee said Americans can supplement with vitamin pills, and one noted there are ‘new designer foods’ coming.)

“We are so meticulous and careful about developing the DGAs because we use them to inform food and federal programs,” said Admiral Brett Giroir of HHS during the DGA announcement.

Part of the screening process used by USDA for science that will be included or excluded from Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee consideration is this curious item shown above: “Framed around relevancy to U.S. Federal  Policy”. Committee members in October 2019 asked for more information on this research screening criteria. USDA explained it to them in the public meeting, stating that this bullet item “refers to including only the research that ALIGNS with current federal policy.”

At least Admiral Giroir was honest to remind us that the DGAs are more than ‘guidelines’, the DGAs are, in fact, enforced upon many Americans — especially children, elderly, food insecure families, and military through government oversight of diets at schools, daycares, retirement villages, hospitals, nursing homes, military provisions, and government feeding programs like Women Infants and Children.

“The 2020-25 DGAs put Americans on a path of sustainable independence,” said USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps during the Dec. 29 unveiling.

Lipps was eager to share the new MyPlate website re-launch — complete with a new MyPlate ‘app’ and ‘fun quizzes and challenges.’ He said every American, over their whole lifespan, can now benefit from the DGAs. In addition, the MyPlate ‘app’ will record dietary data for the government to “see how we are doing.”

Congress fails

In the postscript comments of the 2020-25 report, USDA / HHS authorities say they intend to look again at ‘preponderance’ of evidence about stricter sugar and alcohol limits in future DGA cycles but made no mention of looking at ‘preponderance of evidence’ on loosening future saturated fat restrictions.

The ‘preponderance’ threshold was set by Congress in 1990. Then, in 2015, Congress took several steps to beef up the scientific review process for 2020.

During an October 2015 hearing, members of Congress cited CDC data showing the rate of obesity and diabetes in school-aged children had begun to taper down by 9% from 2006 to 2010, but from 2010 to 2014 the rates increased 16%.

2010 was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to tie the most fat-restrictive DGAs to-date more closely to the schools and other government-subsidized feeding. 

USDA, under Tom Vilsack as former President Obama’s Ag Secretary at the time promulgated the implementation rules for schools, outright prohibiting whole and 2% milk as well as 1% flavored milk for the first time — even in the a la carte offerings. These ‘Smart Snacks’ rules today govern all beverages available for purchase at schools, stating whole milk cannot be offered anywhere on school grounds from midnight before the start of the school day until 30 minutes after the end of the school day.

In the October 2015 Congressional hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle grilled then Secretaries Tom Vilsack (agriculture) and Sylvia Burwell (HHS) about the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) that is housed at USDA, asking why large important studies on saturated fat funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) were left out of the 2015-20 DGA consideration.

That 2015 hearing indicates why we are where we are in 2020 because of how each 5-year cycle is structured to only look at certain questions and to build on previous DGA Committee work. This structure automatically excludes some of the best and most current research. On saturated fat in 2020, the DGA Committee only considered new saturated fat evidence on children (of which very little exists) or what met previous cycle parameters.

This, despite Congress appropriating $1 million in tax dollars in 2016 to fund a review of the DGA process by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. That review was particularly harsh in its findings, and the 2020-25 DGA process ignored the Academy’s recommendations.

Opinion, not fact

During the 2015 Congressional hearing, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked why 70% of the DGA process did not use studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The (DGA) process starts with a series of questions that are formulated and then information is accumulated, and it goes through a process of evaluation,” Vilsack replied.

Answering a charge by then Congressman Dan Benishek, a physician from Michigan who was concerned about the 52% of Americans in 2015 that were diabetic, pre-diabetic and carbohydrate intolerant in regard to the fat restrictions, Vilsack replied:

“The review process goes through a series of mechanisms to try to provide an understanding of what the best science is, what the best available science is and what the least biased science is, and it’s a series of things: the Cochrane Collaboration, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the aging for health care equality, data quality, all part of the Data Quality Act (2001 under Clinton Admin). That’s another parameter that we have to work under, Congress has given us direction under the Data Quality Act as to how this is to be managed.”

Unsatisfied with this answer, members of Congress pressed further in that 2015 hearing, stressing that fat recommendations for children have no scientific basis because all the studies included were on middle aged adults, mainly middle-aged men.

https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4932695/user-clip-excerpt-preponderance-evidence

Vilsack admitted that the DGAs are “opinion” not “scientific fact.” He explained to the members of Congress how “preponderance of evidence” works in the DGA process.

“In some circumstances, you have competing studies, which is why it’s important to understand that this is really about well-informed opinion. I wish there were scientific facts. But the reality is stuff changes. The key here is taking a look at the preponderance, the greater weight of the evidence,” said then Sec. Vilsack in 2015. “If you have one study on one side and you have 15 on another side, the evidence may be on this side with the 15 studies. That’s a challenge. That’s why we do this every five years to give an opportunity for that quality study to be further enhanced so that five years from now maybe there are 15 studies on this side and 15 studies on this side. It’s an evolving process.”

What now?

What we are seeing again in 2020 is what happens when ‘preponderance’ is affected by structures that limit what research is included to be weighed.

Stay involved and engaged. The grassroots efforts are making inroads, even though it may not appear that way.

For their part, the checkoff and commodity organizations ‘applauding’ the latest guidelines would benefit from drinking more whole milk and eating more full-fat cheese and beef to support brain function and grow a spine.

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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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PA herd first in nation to make ‘Naturally Better Omega-3’ milk

New labels are on, and new signage is up in the dairy case at the Oregon Dairy family-owned grocery store. While other brands of milk are sold here, like in any grocery store, the buzz is all about the milk with “mooore” — Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk. Since omega-3 is a healthy fat, the benefits are only available in milk products containing fat — whole milk, whole chocolate milk, 2% milk and cream.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 11, 2020

LITITZ, Pa. — Whole milk sales are rising. Consumers are returning to fat, and they are looking for healthy, local foods. These trends were underway well before Covid-19 and have only accelerated since. At the same time, dairy farms look for growth in diversification or getting closer to the consumer, rather than expanding cow numbers.

For Oregon Dairy, Lititz, Pennsylvania, those paths intersected. They downsized the dairy herd from milking 500 cows to 60 in July 2019, which was the first step to becoming first in the nation (likely first in the world) to produce and market milk with “mooore omega 3” – naturally. The marketing began recently in November 2020.

“We are very proud of our milk. We have always been tied to the story of our milk from the farm to the store. But we are also looking to go to the next level in differentiating it,” says Jon Hurst, center store manager. “Now we have a story to tell about our Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk.”

In fact, shoppers at the family-owned grocery store can scan a QR code on the cap of the milk jug that takes them directly to a video about how the cows are fed to naturally produce milk with more omega 3.

The video talks about healthy omega-3 fat found in dairy foods (and fatty fish).

Therefore (as noted on the dairy case signs below), the higher omega-3 levels pertain to the whole milk (57 mg), whole chocolate milk (53 mg), 2% milk (28 mg) and cream.

While there are other milk brands that increase omega-3 by adding fish oil or algae derivatives directly to the milk in the form of additives, what Oregon Dairy has done is to feed the cows a supplement that balances the ratio between omega 3 and 6, so the cows naturally produce milk with consistently higher levels of omega-3 – and do it within a conventional dairy setting.

The distinct businesses of Oregon Dairy near Lititz, Pennsylvania include the farm, bottling at the grocery store, restaurant, ice cream shoppe and agri-tainment with four brothers, George, Willie, Curvin and Vic, owning different segments. As they partner with the next generation of siblings and cousins, communication has grown closer on a farm-to-table vision that has always had the dairy cow front and center.

Celebrating the ‘Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk’ in front of the model cow painted to show her unique digestive capabilities are family members involved in the distinct businesses of Oregon Dairy (l-r), Willie Hurst, Krista Martin, Jon Hurst, Maria Forry, George, Brent and Curvin Hurst. Absent from photo are Vic and Chad Hurst.

Like any grocery store, other big-name brands are sold, but the focus is to continue highlighting local through what they do at the farm and other enterprises under the Oregon Dairy umbrella, as well as partnering with other local farms and businesses in the community.

Before downsizing, the farm — co-owned by George Hurst and his son Chad and daughter Maria and her husband Tim Forry — sold 90% of their milk through a cooperative in the commodity market and just 10% was purchased by the store and restaurant as needed.

Now, the various branches of the Hurst family and sector managers must communicate more directly about milk supply and marketing — putting them in the position to tailor what they do at the farm level to differentiate the milk at the store level.

With 18,000 followers on Oregon Dairy’s social media platforms, Jon has become a promotion powerhouse with the “farm fresh family fun” tagline, producing videos and contests and in-store partnerships that began before the Coronavirus disruptions and have given shoppers something to look forward to — with humor and sincerity — during this Covid-19 era.

For generations, they’ve been just bottling milk at the store and having their cream turned into ice cream by another manufacturer. But Jon and his cousin Maria, see a future of possibilities.

The Naturally Better Omega 3 (NBO3) Oregon Dairy Milk opens opportunities, but it really starts at the basic cow level, where the total mixed ration is balanced for omegas by feeding greatOPlus, an omega-3 nutrient supplement in the TMR mineral pack from Sporting Valley Feeds.

Their longtime nutritionist and veterinarian Dr. Robert Stoltzfus of Lancaster Vet Associates suggested the product last fall — a few months after the cow herd was downsized.

Across species, feeding flaxseed is nothing new, but it is the supplement’s algae derivatives that add additional properties for animal performance and transfer a more optimal omega balance to the meat, milk and eggs the animals produce.

“The benefits are on two levels,” says Paul Rosenberger, a consultant with NBO3, maker of greatOPlus and the largest algae producer in the country. We spoke with him by phone this week to understand the process.

“By balancing the ratios of omega 3 and 6, we get the benefit of omega-3, and in bypassing the rumen, we improve the conversion of that balance to the milk,” he explains about the natural feed nutrient.

Omega-3 has attracted attention as a healthy fat in the human diet, including reducing stress and inflammation, as well as heart health and other benefits the long chain fatty acids provide.

Oregon Dairy is one of a couple dairies Rosenberger is working with to introduce the product and acquire data.

Through Kansas State University, the Manhattan, Kansas-based NBO3 company has already received over 8000 data points from beef herds, poultry (eggs), swine, and now milk from dairy cows.

“In beef cattle, our data show improved marbling and color of the meat. In dairy cattle, there are performance benefits, but what we’re looking at with Oregon Dairy are the ratios of omega 3 and 6 in the milk,” he explains. “They are a natural for us with their retail connection providing so many attractive possibilities.”

Jon and Maria confirm the milk looks and tastes the same. (We took some home and agree, the milk is delicious as always with no difference in taste.) The difference is on the label in the milligrams of omega-3. Getting to that point took nine months of testing.

Maria explains: “We started feeding (the supplement) to our cows at a half a pound per cow in the ration, then tested, then increased our feeding rate until our tests showed we reached the omega-3 levels in the milk and were holding at those levels for months.”

Today the TMR inclusion rate is at about one and a half pounds, and the testing through NBO3 incorporates three prongs: the K-State university system, their own company labs and a third-party verifying lab.

“Once we got to the level of omega-3 in the milk and could sustain it, that’s when we got involved in the marketing and telling the story,” says Jon.

George explains that some producers are feeding the omega-balancing product to improve cow health, fertility and performance. He says they weren’t looking for specific herd improvements, but rather to improve the milk the cows produce.

Tim says the performance of the cows has been quite good in production, SCC and fertility, but again, their goal is what transfers to the milk.

Tim and Maria Forry are flanked on the left by the downsized dairy herd of 60 milk cows and on the right by the new group of 180 beef heifers being fattened for market next spring.

“We want to niche our milk,” George relates. “Downsizing the herd was never a question of not producing milk. It was a business decision on the farm side because of the dynamics of the milk market and dairy pricing. We chose to downsize and diversify.”

The farm has gotten into custom work and a seed dealership. “We went from being 40% overcrowded to having less than 50% of our freestall capacity used, that changes a lot of things,” says Tim.

One thing it changed is feeding the methane digester that has been integral on the farm since the 1980s, so they’re fattening 180 beef heifers that go to commercial markets, along with a small number of pasture-raised Angus cattle, owned by the store, that are finished at the farm. 

The beef cattle help keep the digester fed and stable to receive the other waste, to generate electricity and be part of the composting business they started over a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the store was also looking to diversify and capitalize on direct relationships with consumers.

“I go back to the concept of doing what you are good at, and this is what we are good at,” says Jon. As part of the next generation bringing their perspectives to the business, he sees local, natural, family and fun as what Oregon Dairy is good at. This omega 3 niche allows them to envision more about the future. 

“We want to be thinking outside the box of how to handle the amount of milk produced and needed,” Jon observes. 

“It all ties back to the consumer and the cows. Through our agri-tainment and corn maze and events, we hear consumers talk about health, we talk to consumers about milk and health. I talk to my own friends and family about cows and milk, but it always comes back to a health discussion,” Jon explains. “People in my generation want natural and local, and this is natural and local. Those two words capture carbon footprint and health, and it’s part of our story.”

“I think what is encouraging for other farms to take from this is to look for opportunities to diversify and differentiate within your sphere — to pursue and collaborate with others even in a small way, to find the opportunities whether producing milk, meat or eggs,” George reflects, adding that the beef industry seems to have a better handle on dealing with plant-based competitors where the dairy industry is playing catch up.

Differentiating Oregon Dairy’s milk with “mooore omega 3”, provides new ways to reach consumers with positive messages about the benefits of milk — things you just can’t get from plant-based lookalikes.

For Oregon Dairy, the bottom line in this first-ever product is to provide the same great milk from the same great cows at the same great price with the same local story, the same great health information – but now with a little more to show and tell.

The marketing is so fresh, Jon and Curvin Hurst don’t have a handle yet on how much their sales have increased, except that the omega 3 message dovetails with the trend they already see of consumers buying the higher fat milks.

“Whole milk sales, in general, are higher,” says Jon. “We have seen that shift increase in the last two years. Whole milk is number one now.”

That trend made this possible, because without the fat, there’s no omega 3. 

Cousins Maria Forry and Jon Hurst demonstrate how shoppers can instantly pull up the video about Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk when scanning the QR code on the bottle cap with a smart phone.

At the store, the staff is trained to answer questions, the QR codes are on the bottle caps, the omega 3 milligrams are on the new labels, the ‘Don’t forget mooore milk’ signage is up with information about omega 3 health benefits, and free milk giveaway contests have been done on facebook, along with celebratory videos launching the message.

Much planning went into the launch, which they never dreamed would happen during a pandemic.

But that really doesn’t matter.

“We are already hyper-local, and now we have this extra step to further differentiate our milk,” says Jon. “As always, our story, even this new story, starts with the cows. Yes, we are proud of our milk.”

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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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