Legislation introduced in Congress this week would solidify USDA’s recent actions to increase milk consumption in schools.

Reps. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and Glen “G.T.” Thompson, R-Pa., introduced the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2019, HR 3125, giving schools the option of serving low-fat, 1% flavored milk.

The legislation reaffirms USDA’s final rule in December allowing that option. That rule went into effect in February.

The bill codifies what USDA has already done, Alan Bjerga, senior vice president of communications with National Milk Producers Federation.

“It makes sure future administrations can’t undo that,” he said.

Putting it into law makes it more permanent, gives it a “little more oomph” and provides certainty to schools that this is the way it will be going forward, he said.

“Greater milk consumption equals better nutrition for America’s kids,” Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said.

A return of low-fat flavored milk to school menus is good for students, schools and dairy farmers, he said.

International Dairy Foods Association agrees.

“One of the best ways to help our growing children and teens get the nutrients they need is by providing healthy dairy options at school that they will actually drink,” Michael Dykes, IDFA president and CEO, said.

U.S. children and adolescents over the age of 4 are not consuming enough dairy to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations, according to USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Milk is the leading food source of nine essential nutrients in children’s diets, Bjerga said.

That includes calcium, vitamin D and potassium — three of the four nutrients of public health concern in the diet of U.S. children ages 2 to 18, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

USDA’s interim final rule allowed schools to offer low-fat flavored milk in the 2017-2018 school year. A survey by the National Dairy Council of more than 300 schools that did found 58% saw an increase in milk servings.

USDA had eliminated the low-fat flavored option in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs in 2012, and milk consumption dropped. Based on the agency’s data, milk consumption in 2015 was down 288 million half pints compared with 2011.

Both the survey and USDA data seem to indicate giving children more options does indeed increase consumption, which also increases consumption of nutrients, Bjerga said.

Another option that might be on the horizon is allowing whole milk in schools, legislation Thompson introduced in January.

“I don’t know if there’s a lot of interest in Congress, but it’s a goal we support,” Bjerga said.

Science has evolved in recognizing the benefits of whole milk and losing the skepticism regarding milk fat. But a lot depends on the next dietary guidelines; that’s going to be key to support, he said.

NMPF wants children to have as many options and as many ways to access milk as possible, he said.

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