Soymilk Option Needed in the NSLP

The Physicians Committee

Soymilk Option Needed in the NSLP

Can you help the nation's children get easier access to healthy beverages in school lunches? As part of the nationwide Healthy School Lunch Campaign, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is urging individuals to contact Congress, the USDA, and work with their local schools to make reimbursable calcium-rich, nondairy beverages available to children in cafeterias across the country. The next reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and National School Lunch Acts will be in 2009. The current bill allows nondairy beverages as reimbursable options for kids with a parent’s note as long as the beverage is “nutritionally equivalent” to dairy milk. In addition to pushing Congress to change the law in future reauthorizations to include soymilk or other calcium-rich, nondairy beverages or foods as required, not just permitted, reimbursable options in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), individuals can urge the USDA to set nutritional sufficiency standards for nondairy beverages and assist schools in providing these alternatives. Individuals can also work with their local school districts to make these options available for kids.

Why Is PCRM Initiating This Effort?
For the past several years, PCRM, along with other health and research organizations, has been educating consumers, policymakers, and teachers about the negative health effects of dairy products. Some of the health problems linked to dairy products, such as lactose intolerance and increased prostate cancer risk, affect racial minorities disproportionately. Others affect all racial groups equally. As these problems come to light, the United States enjoys a huge increase in the availability and consumption of soymilk and other nondairy products, most of which contain the same nutritional benefits as cow’s milks—without its risks.

PCRM’s Petition for Rulemaking to the USDA for the Inclusion of Soymilk and Other Calcium-Rich Alternatives
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is responsible for administering the NSLA by developing and issuing implementing regulations and other policy documents to carry out the Act. Consequently, in addition to asking Congress specifically to mandate the inclusion of a milk alternate such as soymilk in the NSLA, PCRM filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the USDA, asking it to amend its regulations to mandate the provision of cow’s milk alternatives in the NSLP.

In its Petition, PCRM contended that USDA regulations misinterpret the NSLA by mandating that cow’s milk is the only beverage that may be provided as part of a qualifying school lunch. The effect of USDA’s misinterpretation of the milk requirement is that the USDA will not reimburse a school for a meal that provides a different beverage instead of milk unless the child has shown a specific medical need. Any other child is denied the opportunity to choose a beverage other than cow’s milk, such as soymilk, calcium-fortified juices, or even water, unless the school system is willing to pay the additional cost of providing that item (which most schools cannot afford) or if the child pays for that item. For low-income children dependent on the school lunch program, this is not a fair or reasonable option. As a result, children in these programs are prevented from choosing a healthy beverage.

The USDA denied the petition, asserting that the NSLA did not authorize it to take the requested action. Despite the USDA’s position, efforts to convince the USDA otherwise are still encouraged.