Now that he’s the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson is continuing to work on getting whole milk back into schools.
“I think most folks in Washington, including (Ag Secretary) Tom Vilsack, know my goal of restoring whole milk in our school districts,” Thompson said during an April 6 meeting with 97 Milk, a whole milk advocacy group, at the Durlach-Mt. Airy Fire Co.
Thompson has re-introduced his signature bill, called the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which would restore the whole milk option in public schools. But he was in Stevens to encourage 97 Milk to keep pushing its narrative.
Currently, school districts that participate in the federal School Lunch Program — that is, most districts — are only allowed to offer skim or 1% milk.
“We’ve lost almost an entire generation of milk drinkers since whole milk was demonized back in 2010,” he said.
That is when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed, requiring school milk to conform to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“Michelle Obama gets a lot of blame, but she had nothing to do with taking whole milk out of schools,” Thompson said. “That was Congress.”
USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services revise the guidelines every five years with input from nutrition experts, but Thompson doesn’t like relying on guidelines that don’t get put to a vote.
“They went with some recommendations of folks who were just following bad science,” he said.
While the guidelines are broadly favorable to dairy, they do not rely on some recent studies, touted by the industry, that cast doubt on the prevailing low-fat recommendations.
Still, Thompson is heartened by recent progress. His bill has bipartisan support, and he believes Vilsack is in favor of whole milk in schools.
Spreading the Word on Whole Milk
Thompson, who has been in the House since 2009, recently gained a new platform to promote his ideas.
He became the Republican leader on the Ag Committee at the beginning of the year following the retirement of Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.
Democrats control the committee, though, and Thompson lost an ally in former Chairman Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who was defeated in November.
New Chairman Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., has described Thompson as a friend but was not among the 43 co-sponsors of the whole milk bill last session. Most of those lawmakers were from Northern and dairy-heavy states.
Promoting the product, like 97 Milk does, is key to getting more attention and more support, Thompson said.
“This organization’s getting it done,” he said. “97 Milk is leading the way, as far as I’m concerned.”
He suggested the group send its marketing materials to elected officials, and continue spreading its message to the public.
“Keep on trying to move the cause forward, which, at the end of the day, is educating the consumer on the benefits of whole milk,” said Glen Hursh, 97 Milk chairman.
The organization, founded in Pennsylvania, has been adding chapters across the country. New chapters are now part of 97 Milk LLC and are listed on 97milk.com, a recently revamped website that also features a “Dairy Question Desk” link on every page.
“We want to be transparent and we want people to be asking questions,” said Jackie Behr, 97 Milk’s marketing chair. “Making the connection between the dairy farmer and the consumer is so huge.”
Hursh said that Thompson and 97 Milk are on the same track, just in different trains. Thompson is working through legislation, while 97 Milk focuses on the consumer, but both have the same goal — increasing consumption of whole milk.
News editor Philip Gruber contributed reporting.