The dairy industry received good news this week about school milk and sodium reduction limits from Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over the weekend, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on an omnibus appropriations bill, which would extend federal funding through September 30, and it includes a provision that would allow low-fat flavored milk back into school feeding programs. The bill also would delay federal work on sodium-reduction guidance and keep current sodium levels in school meals.

In addition, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation on Monday that, among other provisions, directs the department to begin to change current regulations so schools will be able to serve low-fat flavored milk without receiving a special exemption. The proclamation also said schools that meet current sodium requirements for school years 2017-2018 through 2020 will be considered to be compliant with USDA sodium requirements.

“These are positive developments regarding our efforts to reinstate low-fat flavored milk in schools and help cheese companies comply with new sodium standards in schools,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M. “We are pleased with the leadership and action by Secretary Perdue on these top priorities for our members and appreciate the efforts of congressional leaders, including Senator Pat Roberts, to move these efforts forward.”

Omibus on Flavored Milk and Cheese

The appropriations bill directs Secretary Perdue to allow states to grant special exemptions to schools that would like to offer low-fat flavored milk in school meal programs and as a competitive food during the 2017-2018 school year. Under the agreement, a school would need to demonstrate either a decline in student milk consumption or an increase in school milk waste to receive an exemption. 

The bill also includes language that would prohibit USDA from adopting school sodium targets that are below the first target set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In addition, the bill would require a report from by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on updated Dietary Reference Intake of sodium before the Food and Drug Administration could develop guidance on voluntary sodium reduction for food manufacturers.

IDFA filed comments with FDA last year asking for cheeses to be exempt from the voluntary sodium-reduction plans, stressing that the agency’s goals are likely to be unachievable without sacrificing product quality, food safety and other critical product attributes.

GMO Disclosure

The appropriations bill also would allocate $4 million of government funds to USDA and FDA to spend on biotechnology initiatives.

USDA would receive $1 million to create the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which will require foods made with genetically modified ingredients to bear text, a symbol or digital link with information about the content of the food. The money would allow USDA to begin the formal process of drafting and enacting the national standard, which IDFA supports.

FDA would receive $3 million to conduct consumer outreach and create science-based educational materials regarding the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic and humanitarian impacts of agricultural biotechnology and food products and animal feed derived from biotechnology. 

These initiatives are important to IDFA members that use products or ingredients made through biotechnology, such as sugar from genetically engineered corn or beets or fermentation-produced chymosin.

If the bill is enacted with the provisions intact, which IDFA expects will happen, IDFA will reach out to federal officials to learn how they intend to implement each of these directives.

For more information, contact Dave Carlin, IDFA senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy, at