As USDA considers banning chocolate milk in some schools, one GOP lawmaker wants to require it

NOW: As USDA considers banning chocolate milk in some schools, one GOP lawmaker wants to require it

SOUTH MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As the Biden administration looks to update federal school meal mandates, one possibility is a ban on a longtime cafeteria staple for younger students.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put forth a series of proposed changes aimed at making school meals healthier. When it comes to milk in schools, the USDA is considering two options: 

  • A ban on elementary and middle schools serving flavored milk, such as chocolate and strawberry milk. 
  • Allowing all schools to serve flavored milk as long as it contains no more than 10 grams of added sugar per eight ounces. 

Under the first option, flavored milk served in high schools would also have to meet the guidelines for acceptable amounts of added sugar. The USDA is also considering limiting the ban on flavored milk to just elementary schools.

If enacted, the new milk guidelines would take effect for the 2025-26 school year.

The USDA invited the public to comment on the proposed rules from Feb. 7 through April 10. It then extended the public comment period through May 10. Over that span, the agency received more than 95,000 comments.

The effort has drawn blowback from some conservatives, including Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany, who represents Northern Wisconsin. 

On Monday, Tiffany told a CBS 58 reporter he will be introducing a bill this week that would require all schools to offer flavored milk.

Tiffany said the "Milk is Indisputably Liked by Kids Act," or MILK Act, was a response to what he considered to be overreach by the Biden administration.

"Don't be stepping into this field," Tiffany said. "Don't be stepping into this arena, where you're basically trying to dictate what milk is being served."

At South Milwaukee High School Monday, plenty of students opted for chocolate milk during the lunch periods. The Prairie Farms milk offered by the district would already comply with the proposed new sugar standard; it contained seven grams of added sugars in the eight-ounce cartons.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, 37 of its member processors, whose production accounts for more than 90% of school milk volume across the U.S., have already committed to making flavored milk that complies with the USDA's proposed sugar limit.

A USDA spokesperson said in an email Monday the agency was still going through the thousands of comments it received.

"In the development of the proposed rule and now in the review of comments, USDA has been steadfast in our commitment to seeking out feedback from school food professionals, industry, and numerous stakeholders and integrating that into our policies," the agency spokesperson said.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction submitted one of those comments. The DPI document touched on several of the proposed USDA rules. 

As it related to milk standards, the DPI voiced support for allowing flavored milk in all schools while putting the sugar standards in place.

"This alternative is a compromise between encouraging milk consumption for the nutritional benefits while limiting added sugars," Laura Adams, the policy initiatives advisor in the state superintendent's office, wrote in her comment.

Even if both the U.S. House and Senate pass Tiffany's bill, it'd almost certainly be vetoed by President Joe Biden.

When asked if the bill was political grandstanding, and if he should instead have reached out to the USDA, Tiffany said his legislation was necessary.

"I mean, when you put out a message, as the Biden administration is doing right now, saying, 'we may eliminate flavored milks, including chocolate milk, from school lunch programs,' I think that deserves good, hard pushback," Tiffany said. 

When asked about the issue, a spokesperson for Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said the Dane County congressman supported a separate bill allowing schools to serve whole milk, including both flavored and non-flavored milk.

"Reseach shows there are many benefits and nutrients that whole milk provides, and I trust any new USDA guideline will take that into consideration," Pocan said in a statement. 

Tiffany is listed a cosponsor on the whole milk bill, as are Wisconsin's five other House Republicans.

Tiffany's office said late Monday afternoon it expects to formally introduce the MILK Act on Wednesday.

Wisconsin, itself, is not a big player in the school milk game. While it's known as America's Dairyland, 90% of the milk the state's farms generate is used for making cheese. 

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