Senators Tina Smith, Joni Ernst Push USDA to Allow More Milk Options in Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. [6.16.23] – Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the Department to continue allowing non-fat and low-fat flavored milk in schools. 

The letter is in response to a proposed rule from the USDA that could limit flavored milk options in schools. However, school nutritionists have reported that dairy in the school meals is often the only or one of the only ways that many children consume nutrients like calcium and protein.

Each day during the academic year, over 15.5 million kids receive breakfast and another 29.9 million take lunch at school,” wrote the Senators. “A decision to remove flavored milk from both of these meals for grades K-8 could have devastating effects on student’s consumption of essential nutrients and their ability to learn in the classroom. Studies show that when low-fat or fat-free flavored milk was removed from the cooler, milk consumption went down. Likewise, when these options were again provided, milk consumption rebounded.  By offering children additional milk options, schools can encourage more dairy intake and work towards closing nutrition gaps.”

“Flavored milks provide children with the same 13 essential nutrients as unflavored milk, including three of the four nutrients identified as dietary components of public health concern in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)—calcium, vitamin D and potassium,” said Dr. Michael Dykes, President and CEO, International Dairy Foods Association. “Americans know, and the data show, that when low-fat flavored milk is taken off the menu, school milk consumption declines, school meal participation declines, and more food gets wasted. IDFA is grateful to Sens. Smith and Ernst for leading this effort to urge USDA to ensure flavored milk remains available to children of all grade levels when the Department finalizes school meal nutrition standards.”

“We applaud Senators Smith and Ernst for their strong bipartisan message urging USDA to continue to allow flavored milk at all grade levels in its forthcoming final rule,” said Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation. “Milk serves as the top source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for kids and adolescents, offering unparalleled nutrition. Students need options that are healthy and nutritious, as well as something they will choose to consume, to help address nutrition insecurity and diet-related diseases among our children. Flavored milk has a proven track record of improving the quality of kids’ diets — because more milk means more nutrients, and that’s what students consume when schools offer flavored milk as an option. NMPF thanks Senators Smith and Ernst for their leadership in protecting schools’ ability to serve flavored milk and increase nutrition security for all students.”

“As nutrition professionals responsible for ensuring Minnesota students consume healthy and well-balanced meals each school day, we support allowing all schools to offer fat-free and low fat milk, both flavored and unflavored,” said Cheryl Pick, president of Minnesota School Nutrition Association and Child Nutrition Director of Foley Public Schools. “Growing up milking cows, I also have a deep appreciation for the dairy farmers providing our communities opportunity to benefit from milk’s 13 essential nutrients in support of long-term health.”

You can read the full letter here.