U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson fears a generation of milk drinkers may have been lost due to a decade-old federal policy that prohibits whole milk being served to students in schools.
That leaves only skim and 1% milk, which the congressman realizes many children likely consider less flavorful and therefore get turned off to milk.
So Thompson, a Republican from the state’s 15th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from New York, introduced the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2021 that would allow flavored and unflavored whole milk into school cafeterias.
“This really is about providing our kids the option for the most nutritious beverage that they can really access, and that is whole milk,” said Thompson, the Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee. “It doesn’t force anyone to do anything. It just would provide for the option for our kids to be able – in schools – to have access to milk that is approximately 3.5% milk fat.”
He said lower fat milk “lacks nutrition, most importantly, because you don’t have that milk fat, but, secondly, it lacks the taste.”
In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act removed whole milk from cafeterias in an attempt to help reduce childhood obesity.
“The unintended impact here was to sort of villainize the milk carton that sits on the school lunch tray,” said Carissa Itle Westrick, director of business development for Vale Wood Farms, a family-owned dairy in Loretto. “If you picture a child’s school lunch, the only item on that lunch tray with a nutrition label is their half-pint of milk.”
Schools served 213 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2014 to 2016, according to Thompson’s office. That decrease, in Thompson’s opinion, hurts dairy farmers short-term and risks the loss of milk consumers for years to come.
“We’ve seen consumption go down,” Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Communications Director Liam Migdail said. “The biggest reason is kids are not finding choices that they like. If you look at just skim milk and 1%, it’s a much different product than whole milk, 2%, anything like that. We’re seeing that they’re just not into it. So we’ve seen consumption go down. From the farmers’ perspective, that’s bad because we are a big dairy state, so we’re losing people that would be drinking milk the rest of their lives.
“Think about how much our tastes are shaped when we’re kids and then those habits carry through to adulthood. So we’re basically losing a generation of milk drinkers if kids are not enjoying the milk that they’re getting in school.”