Congressmen request USDA include Greek yogurt in children nutrition programs
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson are asking USDA to recognize Greek yogurt's nutritional value and include it in the agency's MyPlate nutrition guidelines.
In a Jan. 17 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, they pointed out that Greek yogurt has twice the protein and more calcium than regular yogurt and is low in fat. It also has more protein than an equivalent portion of beans, the legislators stated.
Yet it is not included in the list of protein sources in current USDA nutrition materials, nor is it recognized as a type of yogurt on the MyPlate dairy page, they said.
Greek yogurt is one of the country's fastest-growing food industries, accounting for almost 30 percent of the national yogurt market and is a popular, nutritious snack, they said.
Greek yogurt maker Chobani has just opened the world's largest Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls, Idaho.
"The new Chobani plant is a big economic boost to the Twin Falls region and to the state. As federally elected officials, we believe it is our duty to ask the USDA to add Greek yogurt, based on its nutritional benefits," the Idaho delegates said in a press release.
Chobani also has a processing plant at its headquarters in New Berlin, N.Y. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Richard Hanna joined the Idaho legislators in signing the letter.
The request to USDA is to differentiate Greek yogurt from regular yogurt and to recognize it as a type of yogurt. They want the nutrition guides to reflect the protein and calcium advantages and also want Greek yogurt listed as a protein source, said Brad Hoaglun, Risch's senior policy adviser and director of communications.
The legislators are also requesting that USDA set up a pilot program within the child nutrition programs to allow schools in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs to receive credit for protein content when serving Greek yogurt.
Schools participating in children nutrition programs have to show they are meeting the federal requirements, Hoaglun said.
The USDA's recognition of the protein content in Greek yogurt would allow students to get a low-cost protein that meets their needs, he said.
"Greek yogurt is currently not widely purchased by school lunch programs because its reimbursable rate is too high compared to the amount of protein it is incorrectly credited for under current criteria," said Nikki Watts, Simpson's director of communications.
The three members of the Idaho delegation have asked USDA to consider creating a standard for Greek yogurt and include it in the guidelines for school meal programs, she said.
"Greek yogurt is higher in protein content than regular yogurt, so they want it to be recognized as a more protein and nutrient-dense food, thus creating a serving size that reflects its higher protein content," she said.
"By allowing schools ... to get credit for serving Greek yogurt, kids receive a healthy product and it is a positive economic impact for Idaho," Idaho's congressional delegates stated.
The other benefit of adding yogurt to USDA's nutrition guidelines and materials is increasing jobs at the Twin Falls plant and on Idaho dairy farms as Greek yogurt becomes more popular, they said.