A controversial committee of doctors has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to remove dairy milk from school menus, calling it an “ineffective placebo.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has called on the USDA to issue a report to Congress recommending an amendment to the National School Lunch Act to exclude dairy milk as a required component of meals under the National School Lunch Program.
The PCRM has instead suggested the adoption of calcium-enriched soy milk, rice milk and fruit juice.
The petition cited a large body of research which suggests consuming milk does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
According to the PCRM petition, these products contain calcium but are low in sodium and free of animal protein that can cause calcium to be excreted from the body.
Calcium rich alternatives
“The nutritional rationale for including dairy milk in school meal programs was based primarily on its calcium content; therefore dairy milk was presumed to promote bone health and integrity. This supposition was proven false. Abundant evidence has shown that milk has no special effect on bone health and does not prevent fractures in children or adults,” the petition states.
“While calcium is an essential nutrient, it is available from many other foods that have a more healthful nutritional profile, compared with dairy products.”
The PCRM has suggested that the public can get its required intake of calcium from beans, green leafy vegetables and non-dairy, calcium-enriched beverages such as soy milk, rice milk and fruit juice.
“Calcium-enriched soymilk contains the same level of calcium as dairy milk, but, unlike dairy milk, it is low in sodium and free of animal protein. An additional benefit to bone health from consuming soy products is soy’s ability to enhance calcium retention,” the petition added.
“In light of the abundant scientific evidence, and to better safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s schoolchildren, USDA should issue a report to Congress recommending that Congress amend the National School Lunch Act to exclude dairy milk as a required component of meals under the National School Lunch Program.”
Dairy industry interests
The National School Lunch Program was established under the 1946 National School Lunch Act, with the dual aim of safeguarding the health of schoolchildren and promoting the consumption of agricultural commodities such as milk.
The US Congress has amended the Act on a number of occasions since its formation. Butter was removed from the program in 1976 and low-fat milk was introduced as an alternative to whole milk in 1989.
“Milk doesn’t make children grow taller and stronger, but it can make them heavier,” said PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, who submitted the petition. “We are asking Congress and the USDA to put children’s interests above the interests of the dairy industry.”