Whole Milk Bill Sidesteps Core Reform Needed for Delivery of Nutritious Beverage for Kids Participating in School Lunch Program
Washington, D.C. — Animal Wellness Action, the Center for a Humane Economy, and Switch4Good criticized the House Rules Committee for denying consideration of a bipartisan amendment on the House floor today that addresses massive lactose intolerance among participants in the National School Lunch Program.
The bipartisan amendment was led by leaders of the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islanders caucuses.
The House is taking up the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1147, but all that bill does is offer a variety of other types of milk in the National School Lunch Program, including milk offerings that fall outside the science-based recommendations provided for under the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025).
On Monday night, the House Rules Committee, in a party-line vote, rejected an amendment from Reps. Troy Carter, D-La.; Nancy Mace, R-S.C.; Nanette Barragan, D-Calif.; Judy Chu, D-Calif.; Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.; and Katie Porter, D-Calif., to offer kids a nutritionally equivalent, plant-based milk option upon request. Cow’s milk would still be the main offering in the breakfast and lunch program, but kids would have a healthy, plant-based option. Rep. Carter is vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Chu heads the Congressional Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, and Rep. Barragan heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Between 70 and 95 percent of Black, Pacific Islander and Asian, Native American, and Latino individuals are lactose intolerant.
“It is startling that the House, in taking up a so-called ‘milk choice’ bill, won’t allow a debate on an amendment permitting a nutritionally acceptable, plant-based milk option for kids even though half of all participants in the National School Lunch program are lactose intolerant,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Countless kids get sick from consuming cow’s milk, and millions of others throw it away. Neither outcome is good for them or for our country, and the ADD SOY Act is a simple, common-sense remedy.”
“The federal government supports allowing mothers to give kids a healthy plant-based milk through the WIC program, but when the kids go to school at the age of five, they cannot get that same kind of milk in the lunchroom.,” said Dotsie Bausch, president of Switch4Good and an Olympic Silver Medalist in cycling (London 2012). “That’s an insult to families and kids, with a handful of lawmakers disregarding the peer-reviewed science revealing widespread lactose intolerance, especially among communities of color, and denying them a nutritious beverage that doesn’t make them ill.”
Under law, the USDA now provides a reimbursement of $1 billion for cow’s milk to public schools across the country, placing a carton of milk on every tray. This “milk mandate” denies millions of kids who are lactose intolerant a nutritious beverage option. According to the USDA’s findings, 29 percent of the cartons of milk served in our schools are thrown in the garbage unopened. Adding in the other milk waste, perhaps half of all milk — more than 50 million gallons, worth $500 million—is tossed in the trash.
“No responsible private business would ever stand for this level of loss and not address it proactively,” added Pacelle. “It doesn’t make sense to have a policy of exclusive use of cow’s milk when we know so many kids cannot safely consume it.”
In September, U.S. Senators John Fetterman, D-Pa.; John Kennedy, R-La.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduced the ADD SOY Act, S. 2943, to give kids a nutritionally equivalent, plant-based milk option to cow’s milk in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Allowing soy milk into the schools is a pro-child, pro-agriculture position, especially given that soybean farmers number more than half a million in the United States and are a bulwark of rural economies. The Soy Nutrition Institute Global “advocates for the removal of this specific requirement to ensure the foods and beverages in school meals serve all children,” and the American Soybean Association supports the “option for fortified soy beverage without the doctor’s note requirement in the federal school lunch and breakfast programs.”.
S. 2942 is a companion to H.R. 1619, led by Reps. Troy Carter, D-La., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C.. The Addressing Digestive Distress in Stomachs of Our Youth (ADD SOY) Act requires public schools to offer a nutritionally equivalent soy milk option to kids participating in the NSLP and allows for the USDA to reimburse schools for those purchases, just as it does for cow’s milk. The legislation also has been endorsed by a wide variety of agriculture and non-agriculture organizations, including the National Rural Education Association, National Urban League, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Coalition for Healthy School Food. There are 550,000 soybean farmers in the United States who tout soybeans as health-promoting.
Based on documented rates of lactose intolerance among different ethnic groups, perhaps 17 million of the 30 million kids may have some degree of lactose intolerance. In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports the majority of all people have a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, and lactose intolerance “is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.”
In 2020, U.S. Dietary Guidelines recognized fortified soy milk as a nutritional equivalent to dairy cow milk. But nutritional equivalency and cafeteria availability are not the same thing, and schools have failed to make soy milk readily available. Even if kids get a “milk note” from a doctor or a parent, the school may not make any such drinks available. Under the ADD SOY Act, the USDA would reimburse schools for purchasing soy milk, just as it does for cow’s milk.
“We should not be putting cows through the labors of milk production only to throw such massive loads of the product away,” added Pacelle. “That is wrong on so many levels, including animal welfare.” He pointed out that many cows, because they’ve been engineered for hyper-production, have foot and leg problems, while a substantial percent of cows have mastitis, a potentially fatal mammary gland infection.
Center for a Humane Economy is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to help animals by helping forge a more humane economic order. The first organization of its kind in the animal protection movement, the Center encourages businesses to honor their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and the degradation of the environment and embrace innovation as a means of eliminating both. The Center believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @TheHumaneCenter
Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News
Switch4Good is an evidence-based nonprofit organization advocating for a dairy-free world and dismantling the disinformation Big Dairy feeds the public, for the sake of human health, food justice, and the future of our planet. Its coalition of health experts, athletes, social justice warriors, enlightened policymakers, and progressive corporations promotes ethical lifestyles and widespread behavioral change related to how we eat.