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Push for Flavored Milk in School Continues, but Low-Fat Flavored Options Remain a Tough Sell

Nov 16, 2011

IDFA and other industry organizations continue the tough fight to keep flavored milk in schools, but it's becoming increasingly clear that protecting low-fat varieties is an uphill battle.

A recent summary of the comments received by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service regarding its proposed rule to update school meal nutrition standards shows little overall support for maintaining low-fat flavored milk as an option. The rule, consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, would continue to require a variety of fluid milk, including low-fat and fat-free, to be served in school breakfast and lunch programs. Flavored milk, however, would only be allowed in fat-free varieties.

In its comments, IDFA stressed that offering low-fat flavored milk along with fat-free flavored milk can help children maintain and increase milk consumption, because more than 65 percent of children drink low-fat or whole milk at home and are used to the taste. IDFA also highlighted recent efforts by many milk processors to develop reduced-fat, lower-sugar, lower-calorie milk products especially for the school market. At least 75 percent to 80 percent of processors now make these products with only 150 calories per eight-ounce serving.

But a recent review of the 133,268 submitted comments showed very few comments on flavored milk; the majority of those who did comment said they support limiting flavored milk to fat-free varieties. Comments on flavored milk broke this way:

  • 245 support the proposed rule;
  • 120 want all flavored milk to be prohibited;
  • 215 want USDA to allow low-fat and fat-free flavored milk; and
  • 120 want flavored milk in all fat levels.

IDFA continues to work with other organizations, such as the Milk Processor Education Program and Dairy Management Inc., to inform school nutrition directors, foodservice contractors and parents about the benefits of flavored milk. Although some prominent school districts have removed flavored milk, there are success stories from several others, such as schools in Alexandria, Va., and Buffalo, N.Y., that opted to bring it back. Activating a wide network of trusted sources, including health professionals, registered dietitians and moms, has helped to counter efforts to turn more school districts against flavored milk.  

IDFA also has helped to educate school board officials and other decision-makers, as well as local and national reporters, on the benefits of allowing low-fat and fat-free flavored milk in school and the potentially harmful effects of removing it. The Dairy Communications Management Team, of which IDFA is a member, has developed a flavored milk toolkit to help build support for milk in schools. It's available to members for download here.

The proposed rule has a pending implementation date of the 2012-2013 school year, and USDA expects to publish a final rule by the end of the year. Once a final rule is issued, all schools will be expected to implement the changes to federally funded meals beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.

State or local agencies operating under the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs may establish more rigorous nutrition requirements for school meals at any time, as long as they are not inconsistent with USDA’s requirements.

For more information, contact Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, at cfrye@idfa.org.

 
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