NMPF Submits Comments to Proposed WIC Rule

NMPF submitted comments Feb. 21 urging USDA to not include the proposed cuts to dairy in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), pointing out that reducing dairy could lower participation in the program.

“Reducing the amount of dairy available in WIC packages will decrease participants’ access to valuable nutrients needed during pivotal life stages, such as the first thousand days of a child’s life and their mother’s pregnancy and lactation, and those proposed reductions could lead to long-term negative health consequences,” NMPF said in its comments. With milk, cheese and yogurt being three of the five top redeemed items in the WIC program, NMPF is concerned reducing access to dairy will reduce participation in WIC as participants won’t be able to get the foods they value.

The rule also included some positive proposed changes, such as requiring the authorization of lactose-free milk, increasing the yogurt substitution amounts for milk and flexibilities for yogurt size containers, which are important steps to ensuring dairy and its nutrients are accessible for all WIC participants. The proposed rule was largely based on a 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report that made recommendations based in part on the principle that any changes be budget-neutral; USDA’s proposal is not budget-neutral, removing one of the key justifications for following that report’s recommendations on that would reduce dairy access.

NMPF’s comments also emphasized the importance of nutritional equivalency for any plant-based alternatives that may be allowed to be substituted for dairy products.

NMPF and IDFA met with USDA last December, emphasizing the two organizations’ concerns with the proposed cuts to dairy. Both organizations will continue to monitor the situation closely.

The Plant-based Lie That Needs to Die

There it was, #5 on a New York Times list of “10 Nutrition Myths Experts Wish Would Die.”

“Plant Milk is healthier than dairy milk.”

“It’s just not true,” said Kathleen Merrigan, professor of sustainable food systems at Arizona State University and a deputy secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama, in the article. But indeed, the myth persists, despite how plant-based beverages have much-lower protein, numerous additives of dubious value, and a lack of uniform quality that should give anyone pause.

It’s also not shocking the misinformation continues. Money talks, and the plant-based sector is well-funded, with plenty of media allies and a ready-made base of support in a vegan community that insists a diet that’s impossibly difficult to follow and prone to malnourishment should be adopted by everyone. It also comes down to the names of the products themselves. If (whatever substance of the moment) is put in front of the word “milk,” then a false impression of nutritional equivalence, if not superiority, is easy to create. If that weren’t the intention, the plant-based beverage peddlers wouldn’t be doing it.

The good news is, nutrition experts are seeing through it – hence endorsement of integrity in dairy labeling from the American Academy of Pediatrics and others.  And consumers are seeing through it, which is why we’re seeing data like this, in which after years of gains, the plant-based tide is starting to recede.



But we still have the problem of the federal government — specifically the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which often lags behind science and citizens.

Until the FDA enforces its own standards of identity for milk by getting dairy terms right – reserving them for the real thing to distinguish them from the nutritionally deficient concoctions that hide behind milk’s health halo – the lie of “healthy” plant-based “milk” is likely to persist. And as we’ve seen, that lie is proving difficult to eradicate.

For the sake of well-informed consumer choice, and better health and nutrition, it’s important that the government do its job to dispel the lie of plant-based beverages masquerading as “milk.” On that list, labeling integrity is #1.

NMPF, IDFA Pleased New USDA School Meal Proposal Keeps Low-Fat Flavored Milk in Schools, Call for Expanded Dairy Options

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) today expressed optimism for USDA’s proposed updates to school meal nutrition standards, specifically USDA’s plans to maintain low-fat flavored milk for students. NMPF and IDFA continued to call on USDA officials to expand milk and dairy options in schools to ensure children have access to the nutrients they need each day, consistent with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“Children having access to the healthful foods they need to grow and focus in school is a key priority for dairy farmers,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF President and CEO. “Milk is the top source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D in kids ages 2-18, and 1% flavored milk is a nutrient-dense, low-fat option students will actually choose to drink. We are pleased USDA is maintaining low-fat flavored milk in schools, providing children with an additional, and favored, choice to access the 13 essential nutrients milk provides, including three of the four nutrients of public health concern. But we question why USDA would propose school meal options that could limit a child’s access to these nutrients and we urge instead that they expand access to dairy options. Providing low-fat flavored milk will increase students’ intake of nutrients vital for their growth and development.”

“The most recent Dietary Guidelines report is clear: children are not receiving enough essential nutrients for growth, development, healthy immune function, and overall wellness,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA president and CEO. “Healthy milk and dairy options in school meals offer the most important opportunity of the day for children to get the critical nutrients they need. For years, parents and nutrition professionals have agreed that milk and dairy products must remain key building blocks in school meals. While we are pleased that this proposed rule continues to make dairy central to child nutrition, we are concerned with USDA’s ongoing efforts to propose limitations to milk and dairy in school meals, which run counter to the Dietary Guidelines and the mandate of America’s parents.”

NMPF and IDFA are carefully reviewing other provisions set forth in the proposed rule, including the weekly added sugars and sodium limits, to assess their impact on students’ ability to benefit from nutrient-dense dairy food. NMPF and IDFA will submit formal comments as requested by USDA.

NMPF and IDFA also expressed gratitude to Representatives Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Mark Pocan (D-WI) who have worked for years to restore and maintain nutritious school milk options.

“We are grateful to Chairman Thompson and Reps. Courtney, Stefanik and Pocan for their leadership and advocacy for dairy as a way to ensure that schoolchildren have access to the healthy, nutrient-dense milk options they will consume,” Mulhern said.

“We are grateful to Chairman Thompson and Representatives Courtney, Stefanik, and Pocan for their consistent legislative efforts to get milk’s 13 essential nutrients to as many school children as possible,” said Dykes. “Offering low-fat flavored milk and other milk options increases school meal participation, reduces food waste, and ensures children and adolescents are learning and growing.”

On Nutrition, It’s Defense That Wins for Dairy

While advocating for dairy farmers is always rewarding work, some of its most frustrating, but necessary, challenges come when, instead of working to push policy forward to improve dairy farmers’ lives and businesses, we at NMPF have to push back against proposals that would threaten the progress we’ve made.

Unlike achievements in which the results are clear and tangible – an excellent example is this week’s announcement of $100 million in reimbursements to medium- and larger-sized dairy farmers for pandemic-related losses that weren’t included in an earlier round of payments – sometimes, simply keeping bad things from happening is a policy win.

That’s especially true in the world of nutrition, where diet fads, pseudo-science and well-intentioned, but flawed, plans can work against the benefits of dairy that have been proven over generations. Many of those battles become years-long slogs over arcane definitions, filled with behind-the-scenes meetings with federal officials and full-throated efforts that use up energy to keep bad things from happening rather than make good things happen. In those cases, success isn’t celebrated with a news release and a victory lap – often, it’s the quiet satisfaction of seeing nothing happen at all.

Fortunately for NMPF and dairy, we have a top-notch team of regulatory experts ready for the slogs, working with our government relations and trade staff to provide a formidable defense for dairy and keep a sharp focus on efforts to ensure that consumers can maximize the health benefits of milk, despite short-sighted and misinformed attempts to limit them.

One critical effort underway right now is to ensure that dairy access isn’t reduced in the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Program, which provides critical nutrition assistance for lower-income mothers and children. A USDA proposed rule released last November has its positive points, including approaches that would expand options for yogurt and cheese varieties and authorizes lactose-free milk as an option. But it also includes provisions that would decrease overall access to dairy products. That wouldn’t only reduce access to dairy’s nutrients in WIC – because dairy is one of the most popular parts of the program, reducing access to dairy foods could harm WIC participation altogether.

The USDA rule isn’t final yet, and we are working across the dairy community, including with our counterparts at the International Dairy Foods Association and others, to make sure WIC continues to reduce food insecurity, malnutrition, and diet-related disease while improving health outcomes by making it easier for all Americans to access healthy, affordable dairy foods. This work goes in tandem with our efforts to maintain legislative support for nutrition programs such as WIC, and of course our collaboration with the nutrition community to back critical Farm Bill initiatives such as SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the Dairy Donation Program.

Another crucial recent fight has been to stymie the cynical exploitation of a true crisis – the infant-formula shortages U.S. families experienced throughout 2022 – by certain agenda-driven groups  and various foreign manufacturers that want American consumers to become dependent on their product, to the detriment of the U.S.’s own dairy manufacturing sector, and consequently U.S. jobs. Last year, we strongly supported well-defined measures that temporarily boosted imports as a way to make sure family needs were met when a critical plant in the highly centralized U.S. formula industry went offline. But as the crisis has faded, foreign interests are attempting to turn short-term reliance into longer-term dependence – and exploit a free-pass on the regulatory process normally required to ship formula to the U.S.

The U.S. is a major supplier of dairy products around the world. It is one of the most reliable dairy industries, with a large pool of high-quality milk. The real reforms needed to ensure we can best handle any potential future supply disruptions are not further unilateral tariff cuts to encourage foreign imports, but rather an overhaul of U.S. policy that makes domestic formula companies better able to invest in new facilities here, as our cheese and ingredient sectors already do. Protecting U.S. families and developing common sense policies doesn’t make an industry “protectionist” – it makes it more robust, and better able to withstand any future disruptions that may occur. That’s why we won’t back down from pursuing policies that will allow the U.S. infant-formula industry to expand.

Those are only two recent efforts we’ve made in defending the key nutrition contributions of U.S. dairy farmers and their cooperatives. There are many others. By mid-month, NMPF, working with its allies, will submit comments on a proposed Food and Drug Administration rule governing the word “healthy” as applied to food products. No one’s opposed to being “healthy,” but FDA’s broad-brush approach in its proposed rule, which relies on old science about fats and fails to adequately distinguish milkfat from other fats, in some cases may not best capture the essential nutrition dairy provides.

Meanwhile, FDA guidance on plant-based beverage labeling still looms, and we’re working to ensure that dairy’s standard of identity is respected. Also on tap is the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans, due in 2025; that process inevitably comes along with the standard interest-group lobbying against dairy, even though the guidelines themselves cite how nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population consumes less dairy than it recommends.

Of course, we’re not always playing defense on these issues. The latest science on dietary fats helps us support the benefits of whole milk within the dietary guidelines and in federal nutrition programs, and the nation’s nutritional needs alone argue for increased support for dairy at the federal policy level. But due to opposition from vegan groups, environmental and other activists who don’t want to hear our story, our successes sometimes come from the bad things we prevent as well as the progress we achieve.

On nutrition, we know that consumers, science and the strength of this industry are on our side. We defend our values and positions well — and that sets us up to keep moving ahead.


President & CEO

National Milk Producers Federation

 

NMPF, IDFA Push for WIC Fix to Flawed Proposal That Potentially Limits Dairy

Representing dairy farmers, cooperatives, and processors, NMPF and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) issued a joint statement Nov. 17 responding to proposed USDA changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) released that day.

“It is unfortunate for WIC participants that the proposed rule would decrease access to dairy products and the unique nutrient profile they provide, especially considering the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) note that a staggering nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population does not consume enough dairy to meet dietary recommendations,” the groups said in their statement. “At a time of rising food costs and high food insecurity, we should focus on increasing access to a wide variety of healthful, nutrient-dense, and affordable foods, including both fresh produce and dairy products. It’s disappointing that the proposed rule would limit WIC family purchasing power for nutritious dairy foods, particularly at a time like this.

The dairy organizations commended USDA for expanding options for yogurt and cheese varieties and proposing WIC participants have wider purchase options and also lauded its support for nutritional equivalence in substitute products as recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That said, the overall plan fell short, NMPF and IDFA argued.

“IDFA, NMPF, and our members will advocate against reducing the amount of nutritious dairy foods provided through WIC in USDA’s final rule because we are committed to reducing food insecurity, malnutrition, and diet-related disease while improving health outcomes by making it easier for all Americans to access healthy, affordable foods, including nutritious dairy products. We hope USDA will work to achieve these same objectives.”

NMPF Elevates Dairy at White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

NMPF culminated months of efforts to shape successful outcomes at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health held Sept. 28 with President and CEO Jim Mulhern’s attendance at the event, the first of its kind in more than 50 years.

Ensuring people have access to the nutrition they need to live, develop, and be healthy is key priority for dairy farmers across the U.S.,” Mulhern said in a statement released in tandem with the conference. “Together we can realize the policies and programs required to achieve these important goals, including increasing access to affordable food and strengthening Americans’ ability to make informed, meaningful choices across all populations.”

The White House announced prior to the conference that it would release a national strategy to end nutrition insecurity and reduce diet-related disease by 2030 in conjunction with the event and requested that individuals and organizations share their experiences and insights to help shape the strategy.

NMPF brought together other agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition and medical groups in June to urge the White House to place a high priority on access to affordable, diverse and healthful foods, which includes protecting Americans’ ability to make informed, meaningful choices about what they eat. The White House strategy released on the eve of its conference echoes NMPF priorities to commitment to increased access for affordable food for all as well as culturally appropriate food options and recommendations.

NMPF Statement on White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), issued the following statement regarding today’s White House Conference on Hunger Nutrition and Health:

“I would like to thank the White House for inviting me to today’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Ensuring people have access to the nutrition they need to live, develop, and be healthy is key priority for dairy farmers across the U.S. We are hopeful today will serve as a launching pad for the dedication and collaboration we will need to end food insecurity and reduce diet-related disease in the U.S., goals NMPF shares with the conference.

“We know from decades of working in this area that dairy products — and the 13 essential nutrients they provide such as protein, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium — will be vital ingredients to meeting these goals. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) shows that dietary patterns that include dairy are associated with beneficial health outcomes, such as lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The guidelines also note that dairy is under-consumed across all age categories. Scientific evidence clearly indicates that milk and dairy foods are part of the solution to challenges like food and nutrition insecurity, health equity, and diet-related and other noncommunicable diseases.

“To prepare for the conference, NMPF worked with other agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition and medical groups to urge the White House to place a high priority on access to affordable, diverse and healthful foods, which includes protecting Americans’ ability to make informed, meaningful choices about what they eat. NMPF is pleased to see in the White House’s strategy released yesterday a commitment to increased access to affordable food for all and culturally appropriate food options and recommendations. We are also heartened by the strategy’s consistent emphasis on increasing consumption of healthful foods to levels recommended in the dietary guidelines.

NMPF looks forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders inside and outside government to improve nutrition security and diet-related health for all Americans. Together we can realize the policies and programs required to achieve these important goals, including increasing access to affordable food and strengthening Americans’ ability to make informed, meaningful choices across all populations.”

NMPF, Allies Tell White House to Prioritize Food Access at Hunger Conference

NMPF led eleven national agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition and medical groups in a virtual listening session June 30 urging the White House to place a high priority on access to affordable, diverse and nutritious foods when it holds its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this September.

The NMPF-organized session, which included the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Dairy Council and other allies, offered the White House both expertise and lived experience from a wide range of organizations on how important increased access to food and a diverse range of food choices are to fight nutrition insecurity and improve nutrition-related health.

“When the White House announced its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, we at NMPF were excited by the potential for this conference to help propel meaningful advancement toward achieving the conference’s stated goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and decreasing the prevalence of diet-related diseases in America,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in remarks at the session.

Also sharing stories and potential solutions at the listening session were American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Nutrition, Feeding America, Food Research and Action Center, and International Fresh Produce Association, the School Nutrition Association and United Egg Producers.

The effort was part of a broader drive to provide input to the White House as it crafts its strategy to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, which the White House has said it plans to release at the September conference.

NMPF, Allied Groups Tell White House: Prioritize Food Access at Hunger Conference

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) led eleven national agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition and medical groups today in a virtual listening session urging the White House to place a high priority on access to affordable, diverse and nutritious foods when it holds its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this September.

The NMPF-organized session offered the White House both expertise and lived experience from a wide range of organizations on how important increased access to food and a diverse range of food choices are to fight nutrition insecurity and improve nutrition-related health.

“When the White House announced its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, we at NMPF were excited by the potential for this conference to help propel meaningful advancement toward achieving the conference’s stated goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and decreasing the prevalence of diet-related diseases in America,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in remarks at the session. “We, and our collaborators on this listening session, share these goals and know from personal experience and decades of working on this issue that increasing access to food is critical to attaining them.”

The participating organizations said of the session and the White House conference:

“Eggs are one of the most affordable sources of high-quality protein available and can play an important role in fighting food insecurity and malnutrition in America and the world,” said Dr. Mickey Rubin of American Egg Board’s Egg Nutrition Center. “America’s egg farmers are committed to ensuring that nutritious, affordable eggs remain accessible to all Americans.”

“IDFA members are deeply committed to ending hunger by making it easier for everyone — urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal communities — to access and afford healthy, nutritious milk and dairy foods,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “SNAP and WIC are central to this conversation. We know from USDA’s Foods Typically Purchased Report that dairy products make up at least 20 percent of the grocery bill for SNAP participants. With creation of the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive Projects (HFMIP) passed in the 2018 Farm Bill, policymakers took SNAP incentives a step further and sought to address the dairy consumption gap highlighted in the 2020-2025 DGAs. Yet, HFMIP is not working at the scale necessary to address malnutrition and chronic health diseases. Therefore, we encourage leaders gathering at the White House conference to focus on building a healthy dairy foods incentive program at national scale in partnership with food retailers, local nutrition and health organizations, state SNAP agencies, and dairy foods makers.”

“All Americans deserve the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible, and foundational to that is having access to affordable, culturally diverse nutrient-rich foods” said Katie Brown, EdD, RDN, senior vice president of scientific and nutrition affairs at National Dairy Council. “Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt can be part of the solution to ensuring nutrition security and improving public health.”

“School meal programs are America’s most effective tool to expand children’s access to healthy foods to support their growth, development and academic success,” said School Nutrition Association Public Policy and Legislation Committee Chair Jessica Gould, RD, SNS. “During the pandemic, we witnessed the adaptability of these programs as school nutrition professionals nationwide pivoted to provide grab-and-go meals for curbside pick-up and expand services for families in need. With research showing school meals are the healthiest meals children are eating, these programs should be a cornerstone in efforts to improve food access for America’s families.”

“Egg farmers have been donating their time and resources for years to combat hunger. We commend the White House for organizing the upcoming nutrition conference, and Congress for funding it. We must work together to end hunger in America,” said Chad Gregory, President and CEO of United Egg Producers.

Also sharing stories and potential solutions at the listening session were American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Nutrition, Feeding America, Food Research and Action Center, and International Fresh Produce Association.

Today’s event is part of the broader effort to provide input to the White House as it crafts its strategy to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, which the White House has said it plans to release at the September conference.

NMPF Looks Forward to White House Conference on Nutrition, Emphasizes Dairy’s Role

From NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern:

“NMPF looks forward to the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in more than 50 years, to advance the goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and decreasing the prevalence of diet-related diseases across our nation. Dairy products — and the 13 essential nutrients they provide — are a key ingredient in this effort. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans shows that dietary patterns including dairy are associated with beneficial health outcomes, including lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The dietary guidelines also identify dairy products as a critical source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D, three of the four nutrients of public health concern, and note that dairy is under-consumed across all age categories.

“NMPF looks forward to working with the White House and both public and private partners toward advancing these incredibly important goals as we work to ensure all Americans have access to healthy food.”