Agriculture department backs off some school milk rules

1 percent flavored milk allowed without waiver

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is relaxing school lunch rules by making it easier for schools to serve flavored milk with 1 percent fat.

Flavored milk had been banned, but in May 2017, revised federal guidance allowed schools to request a waiver to serve 1 percent flavored milk.

To receive a waiver, school food service directors had to prove waste or complaints by students or parents. That year, 244 school districts in Pennsylvania and 64 individual schools applied for and received waivers.

Last year, local school districts, including Hollidaysburg Area, applied for an exception and were permitted to serve 1 percent flavored milk.

Under new guidance for the 2018-19 school year, 1 percent flavored milk now is allowed without a waiver through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interim final rule for Child Nutrition Programs.

Altoona Area follows the National School Lunch Program guidelines, which allow 1 percent and fat free plain and flavored milk. Serving 2 percent or whole milk still is not an option, district Community Relations Director Paula Foreman said.

At Portage Area, the students are just happy flavored milk is available, Superintendent Eric Zelanko said, noting that the cafeteria director is not getting complaints about whether it’s skim, 1 percent, 2 percent or whole milk.

Under the Obama administration, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program were barred from selling unflavored whole milk and could only sell 1 percent milk.

About 64 percent of Altoona Area School District’s enrollment is from low-income families, according to data collected by the state Department of Education.

That’s almost 5,000 children, and while not all of them receive free or reduced price lunches, many do.

The fact that those children were allowed only 1 percent unflavored milk and, until recently, only nonfat flavored milk, was upsetting to school board member Sharon Bream.

Bream aired her support for allowing 2 percent and whole milk in school during a recent board meeting. She said she is familiar with the issue because she works for a dairy farm, she said.

“We have all these children who we are feeding breakfast and lunch, but we are giving them chalk water for milk,” Bream said.

State agricultural department officials urged schools last week to offer low-fat flavored milk to students as part of an effort to expand consumer milk choices and to help Pennsylvania’s struggling dairy industry.

Adding low-fat favored milk is a first step to bringing whole milk back to school meals, Agriculture Department spokeswoman Shannon Powers said Wednesday. The move is supported by the dairy industry, and there is new research showing the nutritional benefits of milk on student growth and learning, she said.

U.S. Rep Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-5th District, co-sponsored a bill introduced in April to the U.S. House of Representatives that would amend the law governing the National School Lunch Program to allow schools that participate to serve whole milk.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435