Bipartisan whole milk bill draws support from the northeast

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

"Milk consumption has been declining in schools throughout the nation because kids are not consuming the varieties of milk being made available to them.” Pic: ©GettyImages/gemphotography
"Milk consumption has been declining in schools throughout the nation because kids are not consuming the varieties of milk being made available to them.” Pic: ©GettyImages/gemphotography
US Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) introduced a new bill last month that would increase milk options in school lunches. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 (H.R. 832) is starting to gain support from dairy organizations.

Right now most students have access to flavored and unflavored milks at schools in the US, including skim, 1% or 2%. But the dairy industry has been lobbying for whole milk to be offered as well for several reasons.

Not the only solution

US dairy farmers are currently struggling against record low milk prices and low consumption, and this bill is being proposed as a solution. In the past decade, fluid milk sales have dropped about 13% and the price of milk has decreased nearly 40% over the last four years.

According to the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, falling fluid milk sales can be attributed to the rise in plant-based milk alternatives, an overall decline in breakfast consumption and cereal sales, and more beverage options across the industry competing for market share.

“Offering whole milk to kids in school will not alone solve the problem of low milk prices and it will not alone reverse the declines in fluid milk consumption, but it is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to boost domestic consumption that should help with both issues,”​ Edge said.

Edge also does not think that fluid milk has been putting its ‘tastiest and most appealing’ foot forward with young people with the “difficult-to-open, often under-chilled cartons”​ supplied to schools.

Drawing from past rulings

The bill recognizes milk’s role as part of a healthy diet for kids, acknowledging research that shows full-fat dairy products are not as unhealthy as consumers believe.

This goes against the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was passed by Congress in 2010 that mandated that flavored milk served at participating schools must be fat free, leading to a steep decline in school milk consumption in the years since.

In 2017, the USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue allowed schools to serve 1% flavored milk in school meal programs, and the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act would include whole milk in this ruling. Since its introduction on January 29, the bill has garnered support primarily from lawmakers in the northeast.

Rep. Thompson said, “Milk is the number one source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of our students, but if they don’t drink it these health benefits are lost. Milk consumption has been declining in schools throughout the nation because kids are not consuming the varieties of milk being made available to them.”

“It is my hope that the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will bring a wider range of milk options to American lunchrooms so students can choose the kind they love best.”

Chairman Peterson said, “I’m proud to join Congressman Thompson in this effort that will provide more choices for nutritious and healthy milk to kids in schools, and a valuable market for dairy farmers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and nationwide at a time when they’re continuing to face extremely difficult market conditions.”

Dairy groups show support

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) said “farmers and consumers recognize the health benefits of milk in the diets of students while noting that the current limited options for milk in schools seem to be adversely impacting children’s milk consumption.”

PMMB consumer member Carol Hardbarger said, “Rep. Thompson has communicated his support for the Pennsylvania dairy industry to me and to other Board members for many months now. He committed to introducing legislation to permit whole milk in schools and I applaud his efforts in doing so. We stand ready to provide whatever support we can for this important legislation.”

The American Dairy Coalition said it, “hopes the reintroduction of more varieties of milk to school lunch programs will not only provide a key source of nutrition for children across the nation, but also develop a new generation of milk drinkers in an age when fluid consumption of milk is in decline.”

“Without access to additional markets for their product, dairy farmers are going out of business at an alarming rate. Providing additional markets for dairy producers is key to preserving and protecting an industry that consistently provides consumers with the highest-quality dairy products available at an affordable price.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), said, “Whole milk provides yet another way for children to receive dairy’s nutritional benefits as part of a healthy eating pattern. This bill encourages the proper nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.”

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), said, “We thank Rep. Thompson for his leadership and Chairman Peterson for being an original co-sponsor on this bill to allow schools more flexibility to offer the same types of milk that children and teens enjoy at home. Providing expanded milk options will help ensure that students get the nutrients that milk uniquely provides, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium.”

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