US Senate committee applauded by dairy industry on child nutrition initiative

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

New legislation may encourage children to drink more milk.Photo: iStock - Tristanbm
New legislation may encourage children to drink more milk.Photo: iStock - Tristanbm

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New action by the US Senate “will help reverse the trend of declining milk consumption in schools” once it is approved, according to two dairy associations.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) both came out of support of the approval of legislation by the Senate Agriculture Committee that would help improve child nutrition in the US.

The legislation​ is called “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.” It will look to update the child nutrition programs under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.

All age groups are now consuming less dairy than recommended by the recently released 2015 Dietary Guidelines. IDFA and NMPF said this is an opportunity to improve dairy intake, especially among the nation’s youth.

IDFA represents national dairy manufacturing companies, while NMPF represents dairy producers and their cooperatives.

What will the new legislation do?

The measure will direct the Department of Agriculture to review milk consumption in school meal programs, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)​. WIC provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, nutrition information and healthcare referrals for low-income women and children.

In addition, the bill requires the USDA to meet the needs of children who are lactose-intolerant or have diary sensitivities by adding lactose-free milk via the USDA Foods Program.

The bill will now be considered for full consideration by the Senate, while the House has begun looking at similar measures. This is a needed update to these programs, as the federal child nutrition program authorization expired in September of last year but is still continuing until a new bill is authorized.

Supportive comments

US Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said this legislation is truly bipartisan, as not everyone got what they wanted, but “a lot of folks have a lot to be happy about.”

“This legislation ensures programs use taxpayer dollars more efficiently, gives local schools more flexibility in meeting standards, and focuses on fraud and error prevention,”​ he said. “We have a comprehensive and inclusive product including the concerns of school nutrition professionals, students, producers, and public health groups.”

Connie Tipton, president and CEO of IDFA, said she supports the initiative because dairy promotes bone health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases and conditions. This “demonstrates why milk is offered with every school meal and dairy foods are prominent parts of other nutrition assistance programs,”​ she said.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, believes this legislation “will help reverse the trend of declining milk consumption in schools, a trend that unfortunately is in direct conflict with federal Dietary Guidelines”.​ These guidelines say children need to be drinking more milk for their lifelong health, he said.

Between 2012 and 2014, he said there were 187 million fewer half-pints of milk served in school, even with a growing enrollment.  

“If the trend is allowed to continue, it will have serious consequences for children’s health today and throughout their adult lives,”​ according to Mulhern.

The most recent statistics of milk consumption from IDFA show that the US per capita consumption of whole milk fell​ to a record low 44.1 pounds per year in 2013. Per capita consumption of low-fat milk was 23.6 pounds, a 12.9% fall from the prior year and nonfat milk was at 23 pounds, the lowest amount since 1990.

Data from the USDA shows that US citizens drink 37% less milk than they did in 1970. Per capita consumption per day is less than a cup when it was more than a cup-and-a-half in 1970. 

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