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Ernst: Allow Students to Choose Dairy, Support Nutrition and Dairy Farmers

Ernst is co-leading bipartisan opposition to USDA’s proposed rule to ban chocolate milk in schools.

WASHINGTON – On behalf of families and dairy farmers, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, are leading a bipartisan call to end the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule to remove chocolate milk, and other dairy options, from school cafeterias.

“I disagree with the move to limit the dairy choices for Iowa students, and that’s why I’m leading a bipartisan call for Biden’s USDA to rethink their rule. When we encourage students to choose dairy, it’s not only helping them achieve a balanced and nutritious meal, it’s also supporting our dairy farmers,” said Senator Ernst.

Currently, USDA requires schools to offer dairy options as part of school breakfasts and lunches. Schools may also choose to offer fat-free and/or low-fat flavored milk as an option. Access to flavored milk, such as chocolate milk, has shown to be a top pick for children and provides them with vital nutrients like protein, vitamins, calcium, and other minerals.

However, on February 7, 2023, the USDA proposed a rule titled, “Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Under this new rule, strict long-term school nutrition standards would be put in place leaving behind popular dairy options that Iowa children enjoy. The Senators’ letter requests for children in grades K-8 to have access to non-fat and low-fat flavored milk at school.

The effort is supported by both Iowa and national agriculture groups.

“Dairy is a key element of children’s diets and the Iowa Farm Bureau appreciates Senator Ernst leading the effort to keep milk in our schools,” said the Iowa Farm Bureau.

“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. Milk serves as the top source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for kids and adolescents, offering unparalleled nutrition,” said Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.

“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,” said Dr. Michael Dykes, President and CEO of International Dairy Foods Association.

“Iowa State Dairy Association (ISDA) applauds Senator Ernst’s support for providing non-fat and low-fat flavored milk options in schools. Flavored milk is a good or excellent source of the same 13 essential nutrients as unflavored milk, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium – nutrients of public health concern that many kids don’t get enough of in their diets. In addition, flavored milk contributes only 4% of added sugars in the diets of children 2-18 years and is not associated with an increased body mass index (BMI). Continuing to provide students with non-fat and low-fat flavored milk options empowers them to make food choices that are both nutritious and appealing, while also supporting Iowa’s nearly 800 dairy farm families,” said Mariah Busta, Executive Director of Iowa State Dairy Association.

Read the letter HERE.