U.S. public schools will get greater leeway in meeting meal program nutritional requirements, and students will get more flavorful dairy options as a result of a USDA proclamation and the recently signed federal spending bill.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

On May 1, during School Nutrition Employee Week, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation beginning the process of restoring local control of school feeding program guidelines on whole grains, sodium and milk. On May 5, President Donald Trump signed an omnibus spending bill – extending federal funding through Sept. 30, 2017 – containing similar school meal dairy provisions.

Both efforts are designed to help schools meet the nutritional needs and flavor preferences of students, while also addressing meal program budgets.

“If kids aren't eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said while signing the proclamation.

Perdue said USDA will publish an interim rule allowing schools to serve low-fat (1 percent fat) flavored milk in school breakfast and lunch programs. It was unclear when the change will be implemented.


According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the federal spending bill directs Perdue to allow states to grant special exemptions to schools that would like to offer low-fat flavored milk in school meal programs during the 2017-2018 school year. Under the agreement, a school would need to demonstrate either a decline in student milk consumption or an increase in school milk waste to receive an exemption.

Under the Obama Administration, USDA eliminated low-fat flavored milk as an option in the school meal and a la carte programs. Since then, consumption of school milk declined, as did overall participation in the school lunch program.

U.S. dairy industry leaders thanked Perdue for recognizing the important role school milk plays in ensuring school-aged children get the nutrition they need.

“In just the first two years after low-fat flavored milk was removed from the program, 1.1 million fewer school students drank milk with their lunch,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

“Secretary Perdue took an important step toward bringing back lunchroom favorites – low-fat chocolate and strawberry milk – that students have been missing,” said J. David Carlin, IDFA senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy. “When kids don’t drink milk, it’s extremely difficult for them to get the proper amounts of calcium, potassium, Vitamin D and other nutrients that dairy foods supply.”

The spending bill also included language prohibiting the adoption of school meal sodium levels below the first target set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

The new sodium requirements, in effect for school years 2017 through 2018, mean schools meeting “Target 1” levels would be considered compliant, instead of the more stringent “Target 2” levels. During the period, USDA will work toward more long-term sodium solutions, and dedicate significant resources to providing technical assistance to schools as they continue to develop menus that are low in sodium and appealing to students.

The spending bill requires a report from by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on updated Dietary Reference Intake of sodium before FDA could develop guidance on voluntary sodium reduction for food manufacturers.

IDFA filed comments with FDA last year asking for cheeses to be exempt from the voluntary sodium-reduction plans, stressing the agency’s goals are likely to be unachievable without sacrificing product quality, food safety and other critical product attributes.

IDFA cited other comments to FDA from the American Butter Institute, the American Cheese Society and the National Dairy Council, and reiterated the crucial role salt plays in the manufacture of process cheese and ripening of natural cheeses. Unlike other foods, sodium is not added in excess beyond the need for microbial safety, stability and physical integrity, the comments said.

They also highlighted inconsistencies between goals listed for individual cheeses and when cheese is included in a cheeseburger, urging FDA to reconsider the achievability for these targets.

“These are positive developments regarding our efforts to reinstate low-fat flavored milk in schools and help cheese companies comply with new sodium standards in schools,” said Michael Dykes, IDFA president and CEO.

Schools have been facing increasing fiscal burdens as they attempt to adhere to existing requirements. According to USDA estimates, school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. At the same time, most states reported a decrease in student participation in school lunch programs, resulting in less revenue to schools.

Perdue emphasized the changes were optional, not mandatory, and would be left to the control of local school administrators and boards.

“I’ve got 14 grandchildren, and there is no way that I would propose something if I didn’t think it was good, healthful, and the right thing to do,” Perdue said.  end mark

Dave Natzke