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A new petition to allow whole milk to be served in public schools has been gaining traction across the country on Change.org. This petition, entitled “Bring Whole Milk Back to School! Whole Milk 4 Healthy Kids,advocates for the removal of the federal government’s restrictions on which types of milk schools could offer students at lunch.

In 2010, Congress’ Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which changed nutritional standards in school lunches, prohibited schools from serving whole and 2 percent unflavored and 1 percent and 2 percent flavored milks. This was loosened in 2017 when Congress removed the restriction on serving 1 percent flavored milk, but it still limited students to only four milk options. 

Lancaster-based agricultural journalist Sherry Bunting created the petition to gather citizen support for U.S House Bill 832 and U.S. Senate Bill 1810, which would reverse the parts of the HHFKA that prohibit schools from offering whole and 2 percent milk options to students. The petition aims to both draw attention to the cause and collect the necessary cosponsors for the House Education and Senate Agriculture committees to move forward with the bills.

“The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) made ‘historic changes’ alright: bad ones,” Bunting wrote. “It dealt our nation’s dairy farmers and children the final blow.”

The changes made in the HHFKA intended to reduce school children’s fat and caloric intake, as whole and 2 percent milks are higher in both fat and calories than their low-fat counterparts. However, the act had the unintended consequence of reducing the amount of milk children drank.

The elimination of flavored options alone is said by the group to have caused students’ consumption of milk in school to drop 35 percent on average. Without the option of flavored milk, many students either chose a different beverage or threw out their milk. This decrease in consumption caused further damage to the already struggling local dairy industry. Dairy farmers support the reintroduction of (flavored and unflavored) whole and 2 percent milk in schools in the hopes that it will increase milk consumption, thus boosting the dairy industry.

“The dairy industry is losing future generations of milk drinkers because the milk they have at school does not taste good and does not satisfy,” said Bunting. “When the 2 percent or 3.25 percent (whole) fat [is] left in the milk, less sugar is needed to make flavored milk that blends well and tastes good. [It’s a] Win-win.”

There are currently over 21,000 signatures online as of publishing, over 5,000 of which were sent to Bunting by mail. These signatures were from dairy farmers as well as various community members, including doctors, students, teachers, state lawmakers, and food service directors.

“[The signatories] are aware that whole milk has been prohibited since 2010 and are glad to support bills that will bring back the choice,” said Bunting. “They understand fat free and low-fat [milk] is not necessarily what is best for children. 

Many of the petition’s signatories cited whole milk’s health benefits as part of their reason for signing, saying that whole milk “makes sense for our children and their health,” “helps [children] grow,” and is “a healthy option for adults and kids alike.”

The evidence seems to point to a similar conclusion: A 2019 study found that children who drank whole milk had a 40 percent lower chance of becoming overweight or obese into adulthood than those who drank reduced-fat milk. Whole milk also provides more vitamin D and leaves people satiated for longer than lower fat milks.

Overall, this petition is a small part of a broader, nationwide movement to improve the reputation of whole milk and promote its health benefits. Locally, the petition is being supported by 97Milk, which LebTown has profiled in the past.

“This has been a monumental effort,” said Bunting. “People across the nation have gotten involved [and] more people are buying whole milk for their families at home, [which] shows that people know whole milk is tastier and better for them and if the children drink it then they’re getting the nutrition.” 

Read more LebTown coverage of the dairy industry.

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