In the last few years, whole milk has gotten an undeservedly bad reputation. The Obama administration removed reduced fat and whole milk options from school cafeterias in 2012, and subsequent changes prohibited recipients of federal nutrition assistance from purchasing milk with higher fat for their families, absent a doctor’s note.
Since coming to Congress, I have worked to change that. The first bills I supported were measures to expand access to dairy products, provide kids with nutritious options, and stand up for our farmers.
But more needs to be done. That is why I recently introduced the GIVE MILK Act, to allow nutrition assistance in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to access whole and reduced-fat milk.
Whole milk is an indispensable source of nutrients that are essential for a healthy child’s diet—including calcium, iodine, and vitamins A and D. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning that the body needs fat to absorb them. Simply put, the lower the fat content the lower the benefit.
Drinking milk with fat does not make children obese. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite. Several studies have concluded that children who regularly drink whole milk are less likely to be obese—and are healthier overall—than children whose diets consist solely of 1 percent or skim milk.
Additionally, in a report in 2019, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association found that medical professionals agree that whole milk is good for childhood development.
Given these facts, you might ask why the federal government limited milk options in the first place. The push to limit milk options across federal nutrition assistance programs was the result of politicians trying to play nutritionists, and the consequences have been disastrous—not only for the families who have been deprived access to more nutritious options but also for the farmers who produce them.
Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers are struggling. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation when it comes to bringing their products to market. The lack of demand due to school closings and restaurant shutdowns means that countless family farms are facing catastrophic losses from which many may never recover.
Pennsylvania’s dairy industry represents a critical segment of the economy and has supported our communities for generations. In Pennsylvania’s 12th District alone, the industry supports more than 8,000 jobs. I understand our farmers’ struggles because I speak with them often—I see them in church and in line at the supermarket.
My own stepfather was a farmer in Northumberland County. I recently held a meeting with dairy farmers from across Pennsylvania’s 12th District. Every time I talk to farmers in our community, they all tell me the same thing: their livelihoods are being trampled by burdensome, senseless regulations.
We now have an entire generation of children who will grow up thinking they do not like milk because all they have been given in school is fat-free or 1 percent milk. Children prefer the taste of milk with fat and its nutritional value far exceeds all other varieties.
Whole and reduced fat milk should have never been taken out of schools, but the prohibition on whole and reduced fat milk for women, infants and children in the WIC program is an equal injustice that must be addressed through legislation.
The GIVE MILK Act will make it easier for expectant mothers and mothers of young children to access milk for their families, providing infants, children, and mothers the nutrients they need during key developmental stages.
Without this legislation, millions of American infants and children will be denied key nutrients that they need to grow into healthy and strong adults.
As lawmakers, we ought to expand access to nutritious food and drinks—not deny them to families in need.