IDFA Urges USDA to Allow Dairy Options as Competitive Foods in Schools

A wide range of dairy foods should be available for sale through vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores, IDFA told the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in comments filed yesterday. The comments addressed the department’s proposed rule that aims to set nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold outside of the reimbursable school breakfasts or lunches. These products are known as “competitive foods.”

IDFA commended USDA for its efforts to encourage dairy consumption. “Milk, yogurt, cheese, dairy snacks and frozen dairy desserts are all options that can be nutritious and tasty choices for kids,” the comments said. “We are pleased that the proposed rule intends to increase children’s consumption of dairy products.”

Specifically, IDFA agreed with USDA’s recommendations for low-fat and fat-free milk as a beverage option, as well as the proposed sugar levels in low-fat and fat-free yogurt and the fat exemption for reduced-fat cheese. However, IDFA identified a few issues of concern in the proposed rule, such as the method for defining sugar limits for foods. IDFA urged USDA to base the sugar limit on the weight of the finished food, rather than on the percent of calories.

IDFA also recommended that fortified nutrients be considered as meeting the requirements of the nutrition standards and that non-nutritive sweeteners should be allowed in all competitive foods and beverages. The comments addressed sodium limits as well, saying they should be reduced over time, which is similar to the sodium-reduction approach now in place for reimbursable school meals.

For background, IDFA identified some areas where the financial impact of these nutrition standards could be significant. Possible changes to ingredients, labels and distribution methods could all increase costs to food manufacturers and to schools.

IDFA recommended that the nutrition standards should be implemented no sooner than 18 months from the publication of the final rule to allow sufficient time for schools and suppliers to adjust to the new requirements.

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