Harrisburg, PA – To support Pennsylvania's dairy farmers and ensure school-aged children have access to nutrient-rich milk, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Education Secretary Noe Ortega announced waivers to allow flexibility in the types of milk provided in student meals and dairy producers flexibility in the products and packaging they supply to reduce food waste.
"Milk is a vital source of nutrients for children," said Redding. "It fuels their bodies, and their ability to think and learn. The departments of Agriculture and Education continue to work with the federal government and private sector to ensure that children have access to healthy food and that wholesome products do not go to waste. This measure supports the dairy producers who are the backbone of our economy."
"We know that healthy bodies foster healthy minds, and proper nutrition is a critical component for students to concentrate, learn, and thrive," said Ortega. "By providing flexibility during this challenging time, we will ensure that schools can continue to serve milk products, dairy producers will face fewer disruptions, and health and wellness is prioritized for learners across the commonwealth."
Milk is a vital component of the child nutrition programs and provides a composition of nutrients that cannot be replicated. Providing flexibility to the regulations to ensure that milk can still be provided in variety and fat contents that do not normally meet the regulations will help to ensure that milk can still be provided as part of the school breakfast and lunch. It also helps ensure that temporary packaging shortages do not lead to wasted dairy products.
Federal waivers are already in place to help shift elements of meals to foods that meet nutrition requirements but vary from normal requirements as schools adjust during supply chain disruptions.
This flexibility is a temporary option for schools unable to meet milk requirements, and schools must receive approval from PDE.
Secretaries Ortega and Redding notified Pennsylvania's USDA school and childcare feeding program sponsors, and milk processors and suppliers of these measures yesterday.
Those eligible to request the flexibility include School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Seamless Summer Option, and Child and Adult Care Food Program sponsors who have documentation from their milk supplier of an emergency disruption. Sponsors received notice from Pennsylvania Department of Education's Division of Food and Nutrition (DFN) of how to apply.
Pennsylvania is home to nearly 520,000 cows producing more than 10.6 billion pounds of milk annually. The industry supports 53,300 jobs and contributes $14.1 billion to the state's economy. In recent years, dairy has faced market challenges due to increased costs and changes in supply and demand. The industry faced additional market turbulence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the Wolf Administration, more than $50 million has been invested to ensure the success of Pennsylvania dairy and maintain vital jobs and economic impact for the commonwealth. These flexibilities are just one more wave of support for dairy farmers and processors from the administration, allowing them to keep their school markets despite not have necessary packaging supplies for federally allowable fluid milk.
Some examples of emergency disruptions include:
- A school district's milk processor is temporarily unable to procure school-sized cartons or bottles to package allowable fluid milk but has a sufficient supply of 2% milk packaging available. The district could request emergency flexibility from DFN to serve 2% flavored or unflavored milk until the processor can procure packaging for allowable fluid milk.
- A milk production issue has made lactose-free milk temporarily unavailable from a childcare center's regular supplier and other local suppliers. If lactose-free milk cannot be obtained, the center can request emergency milk flexibility. The center would need to reach out to affected families to determine whether another beverage would be acceptable temporarily for their child, until lactose-free milk becomes available.
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