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Why the USDA might ban chocolate milk from school cafeterias

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(NEW YORK) — A new proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could eliminate flavored milk from school cafeterias.

The agency opened a comment request in February for feedback on its proposal to revise long-term school nutrition standards, which includes less added sugars in school lunch and breakfast programs to “reduce children’s risk of chronic disease.”

The proposal states, “This approach would reduce exposure to added sugars and would promote the more nutrient-dense choice of unflavored milk for young children when their tastes are being formed.”

More specifically, the USDA suggests limiting the amount of strawberry and chocolate milk in high schools and banning it altogether in elementary and middle schools.

As of time of publication, the USDA had received more than 92,000 comments on the proposal, with opinions from both sides of the debate.

Some commenters applauded the effort and voiced support to strengthen nutrition standards at schools, while others condemned the plan and said it should be left up to parents and families individually to make those dietary decisions.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long told the Wall Street Journal Monday that “flavored milk is a challenging issue to figure out exactly the best path forward.”

“We really do want to encourage children to consume milk and we also recognize the need to reduce added-sugar consumption,” she said.

Dairy industry, milk processors commit to reduction of added sugars

Last month, the International Dairy Foods Association announced a “Healthy School Milk Commitment” on behalf of U.S. milk processors, pledging to provide milk with less added sugar for public schools.

In it, the association wrote that dairy companies would “deliver milk’s 13 essential nutrients to America’s students while reducing calories and added sugars in flavored milk.”

The commitment by 37 school milk processors, which represent over 90% of the school milk volume in the country, will go into effect for the 2025-2026 school year.

The milk options would have “no more than 10 grams of added sugar per 8 fluid ounce serving, fully consistent with the latest federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and ahead of current school meal nutrition guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

“Flavored milk products such as chocolate milk offered in schools today contain an average of just 8.2 grams of added sugar per serving. The Healthy School Milk Commitment combines dairy’s passion for product innovation with a long-standing promise to provide healthy, nutritious dairy options to schoolkids everywhere,” the group said in a statement.

What happens next?

Public comments which were extended from April to May 10, 2023 are now closed.

The USDA said it expects to issue a final rule in time for schools to plan for school year 2024-25.

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