The Dairy Lobby Has No Place in Schools

by Stuart McDonald

school desks and chairs

As Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue continues to align himself with Big Dairy, he is now rolling back Obama-era changes to school lunches in an effort to re-incorporate harmful dairy products and boost the dying industry.

Secretary Perdue grew up on a dairy farm in Georgia and, Bloomberg Business reports, remained close to the dairy industry through his time in the Georgia statehouse and with the consulting company he started before being appointed in 2017.

Why is Perdue pushing dairy on schools? The “problem,” it would seem, is that the Obama-backed Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act limits the amount of sodium permitted in school lunches, drastically reducing schools’ ability to serve sodium-packed cheese. Additionally the act stressed more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while also recommending that schools offer water as a drink option in addition to milk.

Consumers–including families with children, who make up a huge portion of dairy sales–are increasingly opting for non-dairy options that are better for their health, animals, and the planet. And Big Dairy is scared. In fact, Bloomberg reports that the $200 billion industry is in a “self-declared crisis for years because of declining milk consumption.”

With this rollback of nutrition standards taking effect already, we have to ask ourselves: who are these changes for?

Schools are No Place for Dairy

Big Dairy wants you to believe that its products are the best (or only) way to grow strong bones. In fact, they spend millions of dollars on advertisements every year to untruthfully convince the American public that they and their kids need to drink milk! They’ve been successful in this endeavor, managing to make milk a part of the American family experience, and put it in public schools and dietary guidelines across the U.S.–despite research showing that the health benefits of animal products pale in comparison to a vegan diet of whole plant foods.

But now, dairy sales are plummeting, as consumers opt for healthier and kinder plant milk products. Maybe because consumers are realizing that cow’s milk is produced by cows for baby cows–not humans.

Plus, as studies have consistently shown, milk consumption’s downsides far outweigh any potential health benefits it could have. Studies dispel the myth that drinking milk contributes to strong bones, and instead contributes to rising rates of disease like childhood obesity which leads to diabetes, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

A staggering one in three Americans experience issues with nutrition. So why are we feeding students school lunches like cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, and pizza?

The Dangerous Dairy Lobby

This deal with the Secretary of Agriculture isn’t the first time things have felt a bit shady. Despite experiencing low demand and a massive surplus of dairy goods, the industry continues to produce. In fact, this is far from the first time the government has bailed out the industry by funneling dairy products into school lunches and food assistance programs.

These products are being pawned off on lower income consumers and children, and meanwhile the dairy industry continues to get away with murder: In 2011, major dairy industry players conspired to artificially inflate prices by killing 500,000 young cows–a scheme for which they were hit with a $52 million dollar class action lawsuit, prompted by COK research.

Now, the industry is attempting to squash plant-based competition by lobbying for the FDA to arbitrarily police milk and dairy alternatives’ labeling practices, potentially blocking vegan companies from labeling their products as “milk,” “cheese,” or “yogurt.”

So the question is: how much power are we willing to let the dairy industry have?

It’s up to us to hold this profit-driven industry accountable. We can start by boycotting  products that exploit animals and have negative effects on human health. Show Big Dairy that you won’t fall for their advertising by ditching dairy today.


Parents: Don’t leave your child’s health up to the dairy industry. Check out the TryVeg Vegan Family Podcast for ideas for school lunches that are healthy and free of animal exploitation.

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