No More Dairy Milk In School Lunches?

The famous slogan, "Got Milk?" has been around for decades, but if you have children in the National School Lunch Program, many of them might be saying good bye to dairy milk as a result of a pending amendment to the 2023 Farm Bill.

A child drinking milk at school.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally-funded meal program for children in pre-K through 12. It’s offered in roughly100,000 schools throughout the country. In fiscal year 2019 the program provided 4.9 billion school lunches to some 30 million kids. Why would our federal government want to get rid of dairy milk in schools? If some groups have their way, that could be on the menu in the 2023 Farm Bill, currently being hammered out in committee.

Pacelle’s attack on dairy

You can ask Wayne Pacelle with Animal Wellness Action why he is attacking dairy. Pacelle is the disgraced former head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He and a number of social justice groups claim that the dairy industry has a monopoly on nutritious beverages served in the program.

Citing “dietary racism,” Pacelle and these groups have asked the USDA Equity Commission to recommend changes to public schools so they can purchase soy milk instead of dairy milk. They have also demanded an investigation in order to formulate policy shifts.

Some children are lactose-intolerant, usually after the age of 5 years. The data we found online shows that free lunch recipients are closely divided among white, African-American, and Hispanic children. Some of this data can be slippery, however, because of pandemic numbers, families that pay a reduced fee for lunches (but which are not free), and whether all schools or only public schools are included in the figures.

There is data to support the idea that a segment of children in schools are lactose-intolerant.* Currently, children in the National School Lunch Program may receive an alternative to cow’s milk with a letter from their physician. Pacelle and his allies claim that providing a letter is a burden on the families. Providing an alternative to cow’s milk with a physician’s letter is a far cry from accepting the notion that the presence of cow’s milk should be reduced or that payments for dairy milk should be cut in favor of paying for soy milk.

Milk does a body good

Despite the attack on dairy, experts say that completely removing cow’s milk from the diet is not the solution.

“The main adverse health effects of LI [lactose-intolerance] occur as a result of milk avoidance and reduced calcium intakes. Avoidance of dairy products may lead to nutritional rickets in young children, as well as low bone mineral density and increased fracture risk later in life. Calcium intake is a marker for dietary adequacy and closely correlates with the intake of other micronutrients.”

Lactose intolerance and gastrointestinal cow’s milk allergy in infants and children – common misconceptions revisited

According to the authors of this study, individuals with lactose-intolerance should reduce their lactose-containing foods but they do not need to eliminate them completely. Consuming milk with a meal, in small amounts, improves overall tolerance since it slows the release of lactose in the small intestine. There are also other kinds of milk-based dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream, which contain less lactose. Hard cheeses contain very small amounts of lactose.

What is the goal?

Perhaps the real question is why Wayne Pacelle and Animal Wellness Action are involved in this effort. In fact, the organization is anti-dairy. We found this statement on their web site in a section called “Dare I Say No To Dairy”: “The USDA and the dairy industry are promoting cow’s milk in schools, providing a market of over 50 million consumers for the milk industry and training the palates of kids who will be consumers for decades to come.” It’s clear that the group wants to “train the palates” of those kids to drink non-dairy beverages.

During his tenure at HSUS, Pacelle also promoted the Meatless Monday campaign to encourage children and adults to eat more plant-based protein instead of meat. The program may have older roots, but it was Pacelle who tried to push it into schools, colleges, the military, hospitals, and institutional food services. HSUS still touts the campaign today.

When you consider Pacelle’s fight against both meat and dairy, you can begin to connect the dots and see why he and Animal Wellness Action are involved in trying to make changes to the National School Lunch Program. Not only is it an effort to change the way the next generation eats; it’s an attempt to destroy the cattle and dairy industries.

girl drinking lunch milk sitting at a school desk

Other animal rights groups, too

It’s not just Animal Wellness Action that’s involved in this fight against traditional foods and diets. The ASPCA recently praised measures introduced by federal lawmakers that could be added to the 2023 Farm Bill. In fact, they have an entire booklet on ways to alter the way farmers raise and care for farm animals.

At a time when many Americans can’t afford to buy eggs or breakfast meats, this seems a little tone deaf.

What can you do?

If you are concerned about this attack on meat and dairy – especially if you have children in the National School Lunch Program – contact your senator and representative. Tell them your concerns. Tell them you oppose any cuts to cow’s milk in the NSLP in the 2023 Farm Bill.

If your Congress person sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee, your voice counts even more at this time as the committee members debate what to do.

If you say nothing, your children could lose out on dairy in their lunches so speak up!

*Statistically, the rates of lactose-intolerance in North American adults vary by ethnicity: some 79% of Indigenous Americans, 75% of African-Americans, 51% of Hispanics, and 21% of Caucasians, according to the information we found online. We didn’t find specific data for percentages of lactose-intolerance in children by ethnicity.