Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congressman Josh Harder (D-CA) today led a bipartisan letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in support of keeping flavored milk in schools in response to USDA’s recently-proposed rule.

“School nutrition programs provide students across the country with critical access to healthy meals, including nutritious flavored and unflavored milk options. Research has repeatedly proven that flavored milk in schools is an indispensably important tool for successfully delivering milk’s nutrients to school-aged children, and USDA must work to ensure this access continues,” the lawmakers write.

The proposed USDA rule would update school nutrition standards for school meals, potentially banning flavored milk in schools for grades K-8, limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per week, and limiting flavored milk to no more than 10 grams of added sugars per eight fluid ounces.

In the letter, the lawmakers express strong, evidence-based support for allowing flavored milk at all grade levels and raise concerns about the ramifications the weekly added sugars limit may have on schools’ ability to continue to serve flavored milk.

“School meals provide 77% of total daily milk consumption and 70% of total dairy consumption for low-income children ages 5 to 18. We urge USDA in its final rule to protect kids’ unparalleled access to the uniquely dense and complex nutrient package milk provides. Currently, children do not consume the recommended levels of dairy. USDA must not exacerbate this concerning deficiency by placing further restrictions on dairy in schools. We implore USDA to continue to fully allow non-fat and low-fat flavored milk in grades K-12 and exclude flavored milk from the weekly added sugars limit in order to ensure our children have access to the nutrients they need,” the lawmakers write.

“Parents, school meal professionals, nutritionists, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans all support including low-fat flavored milk in public schools because it delivers 13 essential nutrients that children need for growth, development, healthy immune function, mental health, and overall wellness, and in a package that children love to consume. They also know—and the data shows—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 appreciates Representative Stefanik, Representative Harder, and all of the bipartisan U.S. Representatives urging USDA to retain low-fat, flavored milk for students in all grade levels, as well as for recognizing school milk processors’ Healthy School Milk Commitment,” stated Dr. Michael Dykes, President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association.

“NMPF thanks Representatives Stefanik and Harder for their continued leadership in ensuring access to healthy dairy foods in nutrition programs. Milk plays a significant role in child nutrition. It provides 13 essential nutrients and serves as the top source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for kids and adolescents. Milk in school meal programs is particularly crucial for ensuring that every child has access to these essential nutrients, with school meals providing 77% of daily milk consumption for low-income children.

“We know students drink more milk – and take in more nutrients – when schools serve flavored milk. That makes continuing to allow flavored milk in all grade levels essential for addressing nutrition insecurity and health inequities among American schoolchildren. Today’s message to USDA from Representatives Stefanik, Harder, and the other members on the letter demonstrates the strong, bipartisan view that, based on nutrition-science and the realities facing our schools, flavored milk should continue to be an option for school meals at all grade levels,” stated Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.

Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), David Valadao (R-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Sam Graves (R-MO), Don Bacon (R-NE), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Jim Baird (R-IN), Nick Langworthy (R-NY), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), Brandon Williams (R-NY), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Mary Miller (R-IL), Barry Moore (R-AL), Russ Fulcher (R-ID), Lisa McClain (R-MI), and Julia Letlow (R-LA) joined Stefanik and Harder in sending this letter.

Stefanik recently joined her colleagues on the Education and Workforce Committee letter that expressed concerns with the unrealistic standards and mandates USDA is placing on schools and school personnel. She has also repeatedly led the fight, at both the state and federal levels, to keep flavored milk in schools.

Read the full letter here.