February 22, 2012

Idaho Delegation Wary of School Milk Restrictions

Another Idaho food product being targeted in school lunches

Washington, D.C.  - First, it was the Famous Idaho Potato and its cousins from other states.  Now, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Idaho Representatives Mike Simpson and Raúl Labrador are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abstain from imposing additional restrictions on the availability of milk products in the nation's schools.

In a letter today to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Idaho Congressional Delegation noted a national trend where many school-aged children are drinking less milk than in the past.  That trend, plus the consideration of new regulations on low-fat and fat-free flavored milk, could impact the availability of milk in schools.  These potential limits on dairy have prompted the delegation to request that Vilsack take into account the nutritional benefits of milk and other dairy products as it implements guidelines for competitive school beverages and snacks, such as those found in vending machines, under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act:

  • Allow low-fat and non-fat milk, both flavored and plain, consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
  • Allow a variety of serving sizes for a la carte milk, both inside the cafeteria and in vending machines found throughout schools.
  • Allow yogurt, single serving cheeses, and other dairy products consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommend 3 cups per day of fat-free of low-fat milk and milk products for adults and children ages 9 to 18.  Encourage reduced fat and lower sodium options consistent with the Dietary Guidelines. Naturally nutrient rich foods such as dairy products should not be subjected to standards that lead to decreased consumption of dairy products.

The delegation members noted many schools are utilizing additional vending machines for food service.  Idaho schools have implemented the use of more than 100 milk and dairy product machines stocking both plain and flavored milks in a variety of amounts.

"We do not want federal regulations in Idaho that will limit our milk and dairy consumption in schools," the delegation members wrote.  They noted a recent limit on low-fat flavored milk in the final reimbursable schools meal rule puts milk products at a disadvantage compared with other beverages and the nutritional elements lost when such products are discontinued are expensive and difficult to replace.  Additionally, when low-fat and fat-free flavored milk, such as chocolate milk, is eliminated from cafeteria menus, there is a dramatic drop in milk consumption.  This is especially concerning because flavored milk contributes only 3 percent of the added sugar to the diets of children 2-18 years old, while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

Idaho is the third largest producer of dairy products in the United States.

"We deeply appreciate our delegation petitioning Secretary Vilsack on the availability of dairy products to our children," said Bob Naerebout, Executive Director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.  "Consumption of all dairy products is not only a concern for Idaho dairy producers, it should also be a concern for those advocating a healthy diet for America's children.  Meeting the dairy recommendations has lifelong health benefits, because according to the Dietary Guidelines, current evidence indicates intake of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents."

Last year, the Idaho Delegation worked successfully with other Members of Congress to maintain potato products as part of healthy and nutritional school lunches and snacks that are compensated by the federal government. 

A copy of the letter can be found by following this link.