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December 14, 2023
House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Whole Milk for Health Kids Act on Wednesday. That bill permits whole milk, as well as low fat percentage milk, to be included in the National School Lunch Program. The legislation now moves on to the Senate for consideration. Sens. Roger Marshall, R- Kan., and Peter Welch, D- Vt., introduced a similar bill earlier this year.
USDA banned higher fat content milk in 2012 in an effort to improve childhood nutrition. While multiple health and nutrition groups opposed the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, dairy industry advocates say milk’s health benefits far outweigh those dietary concerts. They also point to studies showing the fat in milk does not bring the health consequences that many critics allege.
“A wide majority of parents and medical and nutrition professionals recognize that offering these options increases school meal participation, reduces food waste, and provides nutritionally valuable school meals for children and adolescents,” International Dairy Foods Association President Michael Dykes said in a statement applauding the House vote. “In fact, up to 80% of voting adults and parents support offering whole or 2% milk as part of school meals, according to surveys conducted by Morning Consult.”
The 330-99 House vote included support from Republicans and Democrats. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said his organization was delighted by the bipartisan decision. According to him, milk’s unique nutritional profile gives it an unparalleled role in providing kids with the nutrients they need.
“Expanding the milk schools can choose to serve to include 2% and whole is a common-sense solution that will help ensure kids have access to the same healthful milk options they drink at home,” Mulhern says. “House passage is a critical step, and we urge the Senate to consider this bill immediately so it may be enacted into law.”
Notably, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act does not require schools to offer non-dairy options. A group of House Democrats had hoped to add language requiring schools to provide plant-based alternatives upon request.
That amendment did not garner Republican support during a Monday House Rules Committee meeting. Plant-based beverage proponents say this is unfair to lactose intolerant students. They note that an estimated 70 to 95 percent of Black, Latino, Asian, Latino and Pacific Islander individuals are lactose intolerant.
“It is startling that the House, in taking up a so-called ‘milk choice’ bill, won’t allow a debate on an amendment permitting a nutritionally acceptable, plant-based milk option for kids even though half of all participants in the National School Lunch program are lactose intolerant,” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, says. “Countless kids get sick from consuming cow’s milk, and millions of others throw it away. Neither outcome is good for them or for our country.”
Dairy industry advocates counter there are now plenty of lactose-free dairy options. Still, for many looking to avoid dairy altogether, that’s simply not good enough.
Policy editor, Farm Progress
Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.
Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.
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