After Intense Backlash, Biden’s New School Meal Rules Keep Chocolate Milk on the Menu

The proposed ban of flavored milk drew much opposition from the dairy industry, parents, and school administrators.

Schools across the country will need to include less sugar and salt in meals but can keep chocolate milk on the menu, the Biden administration said in its announcement of new nutrition standards published Wednesday.

The new rules marks the first time added sugars will be limited in school meals nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Federal regulators said the change is based on complaints from parents and teachers about excessive amounts of added sugars in common food items, such as cereals, yogurts, and flavored milks.

Schools are also mandated to gradually reduce sodium content in their meals. By the beginning of the 2027–2028 school year, schools must cut sodium by 10 percent in breakfasts and 15 percent in lunches. This requirement is a significantly watered-down version of the USDA’s initial proposal, under which schools would have to slash the sodium by 10 percent in lunches each school year from 2025 to 2029.

“This is designed to ensure that students have quality meals and that we meet parents’ expectation that their children are receiving healthy and nutritious meals at school,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday at a press briefing on the new rules.

In addition, schools will have limits on the percentage of food grown or produced outside of the United States, starting with the 2025–2026 school year. Non-American food purchases will be capped at 10 percent in the fall of 2025 and reduced to 8 percent by the fall of 2028 and 5 percent by the fall of 2031.

“The goal here is to make sure that we are doing everything we can to be supportive of our own producers and our own industry,” Mr. Vilsack said.

Chocolate Milk Spared From Ban

Wednesday’s new standards allow schools to continue offering flavored milk, such as chocolate and strawberry milk, although federal regulators had proposed banning this drink because of its high sugar content.

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According to the USDA’s legacy foods database, one cup of flavored milk typically served in schools contains an average of 8 grams of added sugar.

The fate of flavored milk drew national attention last year, when medical professionals and milk industry groups engaged in fierce debate and lobbying over whether the popular drink should have a place in a school cafeteria at all.

Among supporters of the flavored milk ban was the American Medical Association (AMA), which wrote in a letter to Mr. Vilsack that it was “concerned that increasing the opportunities for students to choose flavored over unflavored milk will only increase the rates of childhood obesity in this country.”

“The AMA believes that flavored milk should be completely removed from the school meal program,” the association said, noting that flavored milk is “the top contributor to sugar intake in the school meal program, particularly among younger children.”

Milk producers advocated against the proposal.

The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents over 3 million workers in a nearly $900 billion global industry, argued that an average serving of chocolate milk in public schools is actually a healthy option for most children, as it offers essential nutrients children need for development.

In April 2023, a month after the USDA floated the idea of removing flavored milk from schools, the International Dairy Foods Association announced a pledge to not sell milk with more than 10 grams of added sugar per 8-fluid-ounce serving by the 2025–2026 school year. Some 37 school milk processors representing more than 90 percent of America’s school milk volume signed the pledge.

Parents and schools overwhelmingly sided with the milk producers.

While parents of school-aged children expressed concerns that taking flavored milk out of the menu might lead to kids avoiding milk altogether, school administrators warned that the restriction would place too much pressure on their budget.

“With no end in sight to supply chain and labor challenges, most school meal programs nationwide simply lack the capacity to meet these proposed nutrition mandates and exceed transitional standards,” said the School Nutrition Association, a professional group representing school food service directors and food suppliers for schools.

According to Mr. Vilsack, his department ended up not prohibiting flavored milk because of milk producers’ voluntary commitments to cut sugar levels in those drinks. He did not mention the public backlash to the proposed ban.

“The key here was that we worked with the industry,” he told reporters. “The industry stepped up to the challenge.”

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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