More than a decade after banning whole and reduced-fat milk from being served during school lunches, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in support of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which passed late on Dec. 13. The bill revises the requirements for milk provided by the National School Lunch Program of the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In 2012, USDA updated school meal requirements to reflect the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans at that time. The update included restricting school milk choices to unflavored low-fat, flavored fat-free and unflavored fat-free. Milk consumption in schools dropped significantly as a result.
In 2017, USDA allowed exemptions to school nutrition standards so they could serve flavored low-fat (1%) milk. USDA implemented those standards, which were in place when the pandemic hit, and continued allowing flexibility in the program to ensure schools could offer nutritious meals amid pandemic-related supply chain issues.
Currently, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program require milk to be fat-free or low-fat and allow milk to be flavored or unflavored. However, the Whole Milk for Health Kids Act modifies these restrictions and instead permits schools to offer students whole, reduced-fat, low-fat, and fat-free flavored and unflavored milk.
“Milk is an essential building block for a well-rounded and balanced diet, offering 13 essential nutrients and numerous health benefits. However, out-of-touch and outdated federal regulations have imposed restrictions on the types of milk students have access to in school meals,” says Rep. GT Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee who introduced the act along with Rep. Kim Schrier earlier this year. “I am pleased to see my bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act pass out of the United States House of Representatives, and I ultimately look forward to restoring access to these nutritious beverages in schools across the country.”
From coast to coast, well-known figures in the dairy industry offered their praises on the bill’s passage.
- “NMPF applauds Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson and Kim Schrier for their leadership in increasing students’ access to crucial nutrition with their Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act. This bipartisan measure helps address kids’ underconsumption of the vital nutrients milk provides. This bill allows schools to offer students healthful milk options that they are more likely to choose to drink by expanding the milk options schools can choose to serve to also include the most popular and also nutritious reduced fat and whole milk varieties. NMPF thanks Representatives Thompson and Schrier for spearheading this bipartisan, commonsense, widely supported solution to address students’ nutrition insecurity across the U.S.” – Jim Mulhern, President and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation
- “IDFA applauds the strong bipartisan passage of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act by the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill would allow schools to once again provide children with a wide variety of milk options that they will drink and that meet their individual needs—whether that be whole and 2%, low-fat milks, or lactose-free milks. Whole milk and reduced-fat milks alike provide children with 13 essential nutrients for growth, development, healthy immune function, and overall wellness. A wide majority of parents and medical and nutrition professionals know that offering these options increases school meal participation, reduces food waste, and provides nutritionally valuable school meals for children and adolescents. IDFA is grateful to Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, Rep. Kim Schrier, and the many other lawmakers who for years have championed this effort to reinstate the full suite nutritious milk options in school meals. We strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation.” – Michael Dykes, D.V.M., President and CEO, International Dairy Foods Association
- Milk is an important building block for America’s children. Unfortunately, whole and 2% milk aren’t allowed in school lunch programs, limiting access to protein, calcium and vitamins at important times in children’s development. AFBF appreciates Rep. GT Thompson for his leadership on the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023, which will ensure schools can include all milk options to students.”– Zippy Duvall, President American Farm Bureau Federation
- “Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members have waited for over a decade to see progress made on getting whole and two percent milk back in schools. Today, the House had a historic vote for the dairy industry by passing H.R.1147, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023. Of course, our dairy farmers are going to see benefits of this legislation, but America’s students and families are also beneficiaries. School meals provide nutritional equity and food security. Low-income families who already are struggling to put dinner on the table, cannot afford to purchase the most expensive type of milk. However, medical research and pediatricians have attested that our children need the 21 essential minerals and 13 vitamins necessary for healthy development. We look forward to restoring nutritious beverage options in schools, growing the current pool of fluid milk consumers, and making the dairy industry more profitable for years to come.” – Chris Hoffman, President Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
- “Today is a win for the kids, for the people, for the farmers. Whole milk choice in schools is clearly an improvement for our nation’s future leaders. House passage of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act is a milestone we have worked for over the past decade since the federal government exiled whole milk, a nutritionally superior beverage choice, from school cafeterias based on outdated science. Over this time, we have seen school milk consumption decrease while volumes of discarded milk have increased along with the overweight and obesity trends in school-aged children. When students are able to choose milk they will love, they are then able to truly benefit from milk’s 13 essential nutrients and unique matrix for health. We can’t thank Chairman G.T. Thompson enough for his dedication in championing the idea that schools should be free to offer, and parents and children should be free to choose whole milk at school meals. In our educational outreach, we hear from school personnel, parents, and students, who are excited to be one step closer to nourishing growing minds and bodies with the nutritious and delicious option of whole milk.” – Bernie Morrissey, Chairman of the Grassroots Pennsylvania Dairy Advisory Committee and G.N. Hursh, Chairman of 97 Milk
- “I’m delighted to see this change, which is backed by the most rigorous science showing that regular dairy is the healthiest for growing children. This law is a rare instance in nutrition where good science has triumphed over special interests.” – Nina Teicholz, Founder of The Nutrition Coalition
- “We are pleased to see the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act gain passage in the House of Representatives. As farmers, we produce a wholesome product that our nation’s children should be able to choose. We thank Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson for his diligence toward the goal of students having the freedom to choose whole milk at school and making it possible for schools to offer this nutritional choice without the fear of losing federal meal and education dollars. Scientific evidence supports fuller fat milk and dairy as an excellent source of vital nutrients and other health benefits. While the natural milkfat aids absorption of key vitamins, it also brings flavor to the table so students can enjoy and benefit from all that milk has to offer them.” – Walt Moore, Chairman of American Dairy Coalition
- “Milk is an essential part of a balanced diet, especially for our growing children,” said. “Milk’s nutritional benefits for school-age children have been proven time and again, and offering expanded options encourages consumption of nutrient-dense milk. Thank you to Reps. GT Thompson and Kim Schrier for their unwavering support and leadership to ensure that fuller-fat dairy products are recognized as healthy options, especially for school nutrition programs. We urge the Senate to take up their companion bill ASAP.” – Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative President, Brody Stapel
Source: Dairy Herd Management