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Students should be allowed to drink flavored milk

Rob Hainer/iStock/Thinkstock young boy drinking bottle of chocolate milk
LESS MILK: Because schools weren’t allowed to offer flavored milk, students consumed 288 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2012 to 2015 — even though public school enrollment was growing.
A rule implementing the regulatory changes needed to reinstate low-fat, flavored milk in schools was announced Dec. 6.

We applaud U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for allowing school districts to offer low-fat (1%), flavored milk as part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. An interim final rule implementing the regulatory changes needed to reinstate low-fat, flavored milk in schools was announced Dec. 6 and goes into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

The regulation implements changes that Perdue proposed last summer to streamline the process by which schools can serve low-fat, flavored milk without first obtaining a special exemption.

In 2012, USDA eliminated low-fat, flavored milk as an option in the school meal and a la carte programs, which resulted in a large drop in milk consumption in schools. Students consumed 288 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2012 to 2015, even though public school enrollment was growing.

More milk
“We appreciate the secretary’s understanding that the regulatory process needed to move quickly so schools may include low-fat, flavored milk in their menu planning and procurement processes,” says Michael Dykes, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association. “[This] action will help reverse declining milk consumption by allowing schools to provide kids with access to a variety of milk options, including the flavored milks they enjoy.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, echoes Dykes’ comments.

“Secretary Perdue’s willingness to provide greater flexibility to schools recognizes that a variety of milks and other healthy dairy foods is critically important to improving the nutritional contributions of child nutrition programs in schools,” Mulhern says. “The math here is quite simple: More milk consumption equals better nutrition for America’s kids.”

We couldn’t agree more. It is important that milk is in all students’ diets — including flavored milk — especially for students who live in the Dairy State.

Several months ago, Congress passed the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill that included provisions to allow schools to offer low-fat, flavored milk. In addition, Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., have introduced legislation, the School Milk Nutrition Act, to expand the ability of schools to offer various milk options. These ongoing efforts in Congress have led to a greater awareness of the milk shortfall challenge in schools, which this recent USDA action begins to address. 

In a joint letter last June, IDFA and NMPF urged Perdue to quickly finalize plans for low-fat, flavored milk’s return to school menus for the 2018-19 school year.

The publication of the interim final rule will allow school districts to solicit bids for low-fat, flavored milk this spring, before the 2018-19 school year begins. That gives milk processors time to formulate and produce a milk that meets the specifications of a particular school district. The USDA action now allows schools to offer low-fat, flavored milk during the next school year without requiring schools to demonstrate either a reduction in student milk consumption or an increase in school milk waste.

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