IDFA Points to Schools Struggling to Make Sense of Nutrition Waivers, Calls for Help from USDA to Clarify and Simplify Waiver Process
WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021—Michael Dykes, D.V.M., President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), released the following statement today on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement of investments of $1.5 billion for purchasing healthy foods for school meals programs and $500 million for responding to supply chain disruptions:
“As the fiscal year comes to a close, IDFA is pleased to see Secretary Vilsack use available funding to respond to ongoing supply chain bottlenecks and to make sure children have access to healthy, nutritious foods through school meals programs. IDFA encourages the Department to continue to look to nutritious dairy products—a source of 13 essential nutrients—as an immediate next step in food purchases. Dairy producers and dairy foods makers are ready to respond with wholesome, nutritious products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods that have a long track record as part of a healthy school meal menu.
“Further, IDFA is hopeful that some of the $1.5 billion announced today will go to help schools make sense of the myriad nutrition waivers now in effect. Although all states have opted into the meal flexibilities offered by USDA, many schools and school districts have not because they are unaware or the barriers to entry are too high or too burdensome. Flexibilities should not create barriers to access. As USDA designs how to use these resources in the weeks ahead, IDFA requests the Department lessen the burden on schools. When states opt into nutrition waivers, schools should automatically qualify so that food makers and processors can respond with healthy, nutritious products. The current flexibilities in place seem to allow schools to serve a wider variety of milk and dairy options, including low-fat flavored milk. However, many schools are unaware or unable to meet the administrative requirements of USDA, leaving milk processors on the sidelines holding product, further contributing to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. IDFA encourages USDA to work with states and schools directly to ensure the flexibilities in place result in getting healthy foods, including dairy foods and beverages, to students.
“The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend increased consumption of dairy products for all Americans because dairy—like milk, yogurt, and cheese—provides high-quality protein, including milk’s 13 essential nutrients. At present, 90% of the U.S. population, including school-age children, do not consume the recommended levels of dairy, meaning that they are missing out on dairy’s nutritional and health benefits. The addition of low-fat flavored milk in school meals has been associated with higher rates of meal participation and lower food waste. There is a clear and present link between removing administrative burdens that hamper participation in nutrition programs and improving child health.
“Today’s USDA announcement also set aside $500 million to respond to supply chain disruptions. Dairy foods makers continue to remain resilient in the face of supply chain disruptions, including lack of available truck drivers, a shortage of workers for processing plants, and bottlenecks with ingredients and packaging. IDFA encourages USDA to use some of the resources announced today to remove barriers facing the broader food and beverage supply chain, including by working with Congress on legislation and with the U.S. Department of Transportation on flexibilities for truck weights and hours of operation for truck drivers.”
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The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industry, which supports more than 3.3 million jobs that generate $41.6 billion in direct wages and $753 billion in overall economic impact. IDFA’s diverse membership ranges from multinational organizations to single-plant companies, from dairy companies and cooperatives to food retailers and suppliers, all on the cutting edge of innovation and sustainable business practices. Together, they represent 90 percent of the milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and cultured products, and dairy ingredients produced and marketed in the United States and sold throughout the world. Delicious, safe and nutritious, dairy foods offer unparalleled health and consumer benefits to people of all ages.