Dairy farmers visit Harrisburg to rally support for whole milk in schools

4 min read22 views and 91 shares Posted June 20, 2019

Here in the middle of Pennsylvania, it’s difficult to go a few miles without coming across a dairy farm.

Over the last few years, Pennsylvania’s dairy industry has been shrinking. However, through efforts like 97 Milk and other lobby initiatives, Pennsylvanian dairy leaders hope to turn the tables by vocally supporting several federal measures.

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Tuesday, June 18, a “Dairy Day for PA Healthy Kids” rally and press conference was held at the State Capitol, with local dairy farmers and elected officials turning out to support the industry.

The rally was held in support of three measures in Washington that could benefit the Pennsylvania dairy industry – House Resolution 832, House Resolution 1769, and the Milk in School Lunches Act.

U.S House Resolution 832, or the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act would allow public schools to offer unflavored and flavored whole milk if passed by amending the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. It would also strike from the law the requirement that milk served in schools be “consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

“Milk is the No. 1 source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of our students, but if they’re not drinking milk, they’re clearly not getting these benefits,” said US Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA15), the sponsor of the resolution. “Milk consumption has been declining in schools because kids are not happy with the lack of choices. I am excited to rally in Harrisburg today in support of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.

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“I look forward to the day when school lunchrooms can offer a wider range of milk options so students can choose the kind they love best.”

US Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson joined a coalition of PA dairy farmers, industry leaders, legislators and nutritionists at the State Capitol advocating for Congress to allow whole milk to be offered in schools.

The passage of House Resolution 1769, the Dairy Pride Act, would ban plant-based products (i.e. soy milk, almond milk, etc.) from being labeled as milk. The resolution claims that this packaging misleads consumers.

“As a doctor, it is clear to me that the mislabeling of milk creates a public health issue,” said Congressman John Joyce, the Dairy Pride Act’s sponsor. “Consumers should be able to feel confident that they are getting the proper nutritional value from their dairy products and enforcing federal regulations is necessary for that to occur.”

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The Milk in School Lunches Act, or MILK, would require the USDA to exclude milk fat from the school lunch saturated fat cap and allow schools to serve whole milk and two percent milk. Bill supporters claim that the existing policy pushes children away from milk, and that whole milk is better than no milk at all.

“Every parent knows milk does a body good,” said Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), MILK’s sponsor. “The decision in 2010 to prohibit whole milk and two percent from being served in schools contributed to a sharp decline in consumption across the country, which means kids are not getting essential nutrients milk provides. This measure fixes that error and permits schools to sell whole and two percent milk once again.”

This is on the heels of last year’s USDA decision to allow schools to offer flavored one percent milk. If these new measures pass, Pennsylvania’s dairy industry will benefit from the increased consumption of milk by children, a significant portion of its target consumers.

As of right now, many Pennsylvania dairy farmers are struggling due to causes including Walmart’s mid-west dairy supply chain, reduced demand from schools due to government regulations, dairy alternatives, and a significant gap between growing supply and falling demand, according to WITF. This article also notes that Americans drink 42% less milk than they did in 1970.

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“The hard-working dairy farmers of this commonwealth have one goal each day: To provide nutritious, wholesome natural milk that fortifies bodies and pumps billions of dollars and thousands of jobs into Pennsylvania’s economy,” said Dave Smith, executive director of the PA Dairymen’s Association. “We’re asking Congress and administration officials in Washington and Harrisburg to allow us to offer a full range of power-packed milk products to strengthen the bodies and fuel the minds of students in grades k-12.

“And, we ask them to end the unfair practice of competitors who label their non-dairy products as milk.”

While the American Health Association recommends that infants under two years old drink whole milk, it suggests that individuals over two years old drink skim or low-fat milk daily. However, nutritionist Althea Zanecosky cites recent studies showing that whole milk may be beneficial to children.

“These new studies raise the possibility that our current recommendations for low-fat or skim milk in early childhood years may contribute to low vitamin D status and higher body fatness,” said Zanecosky. “The new pediatric milk studies are surprising and contradict the rationale for current dietary milk recommendations for children; that one level of milk fat is for everyone, a kind of one-size-fits-all solution. If a child prefers the taste and texture of whole milk, especially over the option of no milk, then whole milk is a good choice.

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“The ‘choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods’ message is an easy fix, but when applied to kids, it’s not that easy. The science says we can be more flexible.”

Smith worked with other Pa dairy leaders to organize the Dairy Day for PA Healthy Kids.

Lebanon County’s State Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) was at the rally as well, and provided a visual testimonial of the deliciousness of dairy products.

The PA Dairymen’s Association posted photos of the event to its Facebook page Tuesday. Find them and additional footage from the rally below.

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