A U.S. House committee passed a major school meal reauthorization Wednesday but defeated a bid by Northeastern Republicans to strengthen dairy’s market access.
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., sought to allow whole milk in schools, and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., wanted to require that at least one flavored option be offered.
In their combined amendment, the lawmakers with large dairy constituencies were promoting two of their favorite milk policy ideas.
Thompson, for example, has been pushing whole milk in schools for several years through a standalone bill.
In explaining his amendment, Thompson said that losing whole milk in schools has soured a generation of future customers on milk — a common fear among dairy producers.
Many farmers despise skim milk’s taste and assume other people do too, but some research indicates school plate waste changed little after whole milk was removed from schools.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said her recent visit to a Portland elementary school showed farmers had little reason to be worried.
“A lot of kids wanted milk, and a lot of kids wanted chocolate milk, and they drank it,” Bonamici said.
Thompson also said a growing body of evidence undermines the thinking that consuming saturated fat — which whole milk contains in greater measure than lower-fat milks — increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
“It is time to listen to the science and stop blocking children from accessing nutritious milk options,” Thompson said.
Some studies have correlated positive health outcomes with consumption of higher-fat milk. But the reasons for this correlation remain unclear, many dietitians remain skeptical, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not reflect Thompson’s view.
A 2010 law requires schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program to serve a variety of milks. The beverages must comply with the federal Dietary Guidelines, which recommends low-fat options. Skim and 1% milk are allowed in schools.
Bonamici said milk provides important nutrients that children need, but following evidence-based standards means rejecting Thompson’s amendment.
Stefanik’s part of the amendment, to require flavored milk in schools, uses language from a bill she introduced earlier this year in response to concerns that New York City Mayor Eric Adams would ban chocolate milk in schools.
Adams, whose has experienced complications from diabetes, has criticized chocolate milk as too sugary for children but said in April that he would not take the beverage off cafeteria trays.
About two-thirds of milk served in schools is flavored, according to the National Dairy Council.
The Democratic-led school meal bill that passed the Education and Labor Committee does make a small milk-related change.
Schools would be expected to substitute milk with a nondairy beverage for children who have medical or dietary restrictions for milk. Current rules merely allow schools to make this substitution.