USDA Proposes Changes for Milk Substitutes in School Nutrition Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service issued a proposed rule last month that has the potential to affect the amount of nutrients that some school-age children will receive through federal school breakfast and lunch programs. IDFA is concerned that this proposed rule, in addition to previously proposed changes to the supplemental program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), could substantially decrease the amount of milk consumed by participants in federal nutrition programs, putting them at risk for increased nutritional deficiencies.
IDFA is working with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) to develop a unified industry response, emphasizing that schools must be careful when making substitutions for milk to safeguard the health of their students. Each organization plans to submit individual comments to USDA before the January 8 deadline. IDFA encourages member companies to submit their own comments to email@example.com with the subject line "Fluid Milk Substitutions."
"We believe the proposed rule is positive in that it recognizes the broad nutritional contributions of dairy products, but we need to protect milk's position as the best source of a variety of nutrients in children's diets," said Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of regulatory affairs.
The proposed rule aims to develop consistent requirements for milk substitutes in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program under the Child Nutrition and WIC Authorization Act of 2004. The rule would establish nutritional standards for non-dairy beverage alternatives to fluid milk and broaden guidelines that allow parents to request fluid milk substitutes.
"We're concerned that the proposed allowance of substitutes for fluid milk in the school nutrition program may be too broad," said Matto. "While nutritional equivalency is an important benchmark for comparison, the beverages' demonstrated bioavailability, which measures the body's ability to absorb and use the nutrients, is equally important. Unfortunately, this issue is not addressed in USDA's proposed rule."
Tests to address the bioavailability of calcium added to various soy beverages, for example, have found that the added calcium often is not readily absorbed. This could mean that even though the guidelines for nutritional equivalency are the same, many school children would not be getting the same nutritional value as children who are drinking milk, Matto explained.
The proposed rule also would allow the students' parents or guardians to request a non-dairy substitute based on special dietary needs, such as milk allergy or lactose intolerance. The programs currently allow substitutions for disability reasons and require students to present a letter from a doctor or other medical authority stating why they should be eligible for a substitute.
In addition, individual schools would be allowed to select the beverages that meet the nutritional standards established in the proposed rule. They would not be reimbursed any extra money, however, for products that might be more expensive than milk.
IDFA plans to offer a template soon to help members craft their own comments. For more information, contact Matto at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-737-4332. To read the Federal Register notice on this proposed rule, click here.
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Posted December 11, 2006