Congress poised to let Big Dairy meddle in school meals program

Children in a classroom learning


Bill would bring whole milk back to schools in contravention of Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The House will likely vote on legislation that would allow whole milk to be offered with school meals next week. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and other organizations are calling on members of the House to oppose the bill as unwarranted political meddling with evidence-based nutrition standards aimed at protecting kids’ health.  

The bill, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023 (H.R. 1147), sponsored by Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA), would allow schools to offer whole milk in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Since 2012, the Program has allowed only low-fat and fat-free milk. The bill undermines the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with which school meals must be aligned under current law, in favor of dairy industry interests. CSPI says that would set a dangerous precedent that could undermine the healthfulness of school meals and the integrity of federal school nutrition standards.

“How many parents would turn to their members of Congress for nutrition advice for their children instead of health experts?” asked Meghan Maroney, CSPI campaign manager for federal child nutrition programs. “It’s absurd. Nutrition standards for school meals should be based on science, not on regurgitated talking points from the dairy industry or any other industry.” 

In addition to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Cardiology all recommend low-fat or fat-free milk starting at age 2 to achieve a heart-healthy, nutrient-rich diet that limits saturated fat to less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, a cause of heart disease. Between 78 and 88 percent of school-age children’s diets already exceed the recommended limit of saturated fat. Just one cup of whole milk contains five grams of saturated fat, which is a quarter of the Daily Value of the heart-disease-promoting nutrient.  

Rep. Thompson’s bill is not the dairy industry’s only attempt to interfere with school meal nutrition standards. In the spending bill that Congress must pass early next year, both the House and the Senate have included special carve-outs exempting cheese from the overall sodium guidelines in the meals programs. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t give cheese these special sodium exemptions, the bill would prevent USDA from implementing future sodium limits for all school foods and could roll back progress on reducing salt to safe levels in students’ meals.  

“There are many pieces of legislation members of Congress could endorse that would increase access to school meals and thus increase access to milk,” said Maroney. “But some in Congress would rather do backflips to please Big Dairy instead of serving the families and children in their districts.” 

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