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NEWS RELEASE March 5, 2004

PCRM Condemns House Language on Soy Milk Option for School Lunch Programs as ‘Political Sleight of Hand’

Physicians Call Dairy Monopoly Unhealthy for America’s Children

WASHINGTON–The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine today renewed its call for Congress to add soymilk and other nondairy beverages to the list of options available to America’s schoolchildren through the National School Lunch Program. PCRM also condemned House language in the pending Child Nutrition Improvement and Integrity Act of 2004 as “political sleight of hand” on behalf of the dairy industry.

At the heart of the debate is the National School Lunch Act, the law establishing the National School Lunch Program that determines what food is served in America’s schools.

“For nearly 60 years that has meant pushing milk on children despite overwhelming scientific and clinical evidence that milk and other dairy products contribute to a host of health problems, including increased risks of obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, heart disease, and prostate cancer,” says PCRM Nutrition Director Amy Lanou, Ph.D.

In addition, many children, particularly children of color, cannot digest cow’s milk, because of a normal, but painful, condition known as lactose intolerance that can cause nausea, flatulence, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Between 30 and 50 million people in the United States suffer from lactose intolerance, including approximately 90 percent of all Asian Americans and up to 75 percent of African Americans. Latinos and Native Americans also exhibit high rates.

Despite growing public pressure for nondairy alternatives, schools are helpless in the face of current USDA regulations that require that cow’s milk be the only beverage permitted in all federally assisted school meal plans. While many school districts would like to offer soy-based alternatives, the USDA will not reimburse them for it, forcing schools to shoulder the financial burden themselves – something many financially strapped school districts cannot afford.

It is a situation that is unlikely to improve if draft language released Thursday by the House Education and the Workforce Committee finds its way into the final House bill reauthorizing the School Lunch Act. Under the proposed bill, nondairy beverages are reimbursable only in the case of a medical disability certified by a doctor. Other medical needs and dietary preferences (including religious-based requests) do not have to accommodated and, even if they are, cannot be part of a “qualifying” reimbursable meal.

“The House language is the worst kind of political doublespeak,” said Lanou. “It gives the illusion of progress while maintaining the status quo. For decades our public schools have been a dumping ground for the dairy industry and our government has been hostage to the powerful dairy lobby – all to the detriment of our children’s health. It is long past time we put a stop to it.”

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Media Contact:
Jeanne S. McVey

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