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Reps. Courtney and Thompson Lead Bipartisan Effort to Ensure Schools Retain Freedom to Provide Variety of Healthy Milk Options

May 26, 2021
Press Release

NORWICH, CT—Today, Representatives Joe Courtney (CT-02) and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15) led a bipartisan group in writing to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide support for increasing dairy consumption for children by providing schools the freedom to offer low-fat, flavored milk as part of school meals programs. Reps. Courtney and Thompson have teamed up before on this issue through the introduction of the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2019. In writing to Secretary Vilsack, Reps. Courtney and Thompson led a bipartisan coalition of 55 Members of Congress from across the country. To read the letter and the full list of co-signers, click here.

The Representatives note in their letter that the underconsumption of milk and other dairy foods carries serious health risks, and thanked Secretary Vilsack for calling attention to the importance of milk consumption during his recent commentary before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. Importantly, the Representatives note that an evidence-based path forward for increasing dairy consumption in schools already exists within USDA’s jurisdiction:

“One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating is within the federal school meal programs under your jurisdiction,” Courtney and Thompson wrote. “Evidence clearly shows that when students choose school meals, they receive a better and more balanced diet. They are also more likely to choose milk: the recent School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study shows that students who participate in the National School Lunch Program are almost three times as likely to have milk with their lunch as their peers who do not participate.”

“As you know, current law requires school milk varieties to be consistent with the DGAs and specifically permits flavored milk,” they continued. “Accordingly, we believe schools should continue to have the option to offer low-fat flavored milk, which remains consistent with the most recent DGAs.

“Surveys have shown that students drank less milk when all flavored milk was required to be fat-free. One survey conducted by the Milk Processor Education Program, which is overseen by USDA, determined that from 2012 (when low-fat flavored milk was removed as an option in schools) to 2018, school milk volume declined from 452 million gallons to 403 million gallons in – a decrease of 10.8 percent. In turn, when schools were again able to offer this variety, respondents to a survey said students liked the milk better and consumption rose. A survey of over 300 schools that offered low-fat flavored milk under waiver authority in the 2017-18 school year found that 58% of schools saw an increase in milk sold and 82% reported that it was easy or very easy to accommodate low-fat flavored milk within the calorie maximum for their menus.

“As we work together to confront the many food and nutrition challenges facing our population, we would like to work with you to explore the best path forward to ensure schools can choose which varieties of milk to serve from all options consistent with the DGAs.”

To read the full letter, click here.

Rep. Courtney is a founding member and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Dairy Caucus, and has joined Rep. Thompson before to advance efforts to improve school nutrition and support American dairy farmers. During the previous 116th Congress, Courtney and Thompson led the introduction of the bipartisan School Milk Nutrition Act of 2019, a bill that sought to improve nutrition for young Americans by expanding milk options for students and reversing the decline of milk consumption in schools. Click here to learn more.