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Charles E. Schumer

10/17/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/17/2019 13:43

FOLLOWING HIS PUSH, SCHUMER ANNOUNCES AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS BILL INCLUDES A VITAL PROVISION TO UPDATE UNFAIR PROTEIN CREDITING SYSTEM, MAKING GREEK YOGURT MORE ECONOMICAL[...]

10.17.19

After Schumer's Major 2015 Push, USDA Included Greek Yogurt In The School Lunch Program; USDA's Outdated Protein Crediting Policy Has Made Greek Yogurt Not Economical For Schools

Schumer Announces Senate Agricultural Appropriations Bill Includes Language Directing USDA To Update Protein Crediting System

Schumer: Updating Protein Crediting System Will Have Delicious Results For Upstate Students, Dairy Producers And Quickly-Growing Greek Yogurt Industry

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced, following his push at Chobani last fall, the Senate version of the agricultural appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2020, which recently passed out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, includes a provision directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update the protein crediting system in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

Schumer explained that under the current USDA policy for crediting the protein contribution of meat and meat alternatives, Greek yogurt is not given credit for the protein it contributes when compared to other protein food alternatives, which have less protein. Schumer explained that because of this outdated policy, products like Greek yogurt, also known as strained, high protein yogurt, are uneconomical for schools to purchase, and because of this, are frequently not available under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. To address this issue that denies students a healthy, protein-rich meal alternative, and Chobani in New Berlin and dairy producers across the state of a valuable source of revenue, Schumer pushed the Senate Agricultural Committee to include language in its agriculture appropriations bill to update the protein crediting system to more accurately reflect Greek yogurt's high protein count; Schumer is also vowing to ensure it is included in the final agricultural appropriations bill.

'High-protein Greek yogurt is exactly the type of food that should be widely accessible in the USDA School Meal programs because it's healthy, high in protein and delicious. However, because of an outdated USDA policy, Greek yogurt is treated unfairly under this critical program, making Greek yogurt uneconomical, and denying our students of a healthy meal alternative,' said Senator Schumer. 'That's why in the Senate's agricultural appropriations bill, which recently passed out of committee, I pushed for language directing USDA to update this policy and treat Greek yogurt and its high protein count more fairly. Updating this policy would be a true win-win-win, for our children, for dairy producers everywhere and for Upstate New York's burgeoning Greek yogurt industry, and I vow to do everything in my power to see that it's signed into law as soon as possible.'

'We need to make access to better food options for children easier, not harder. Making high-quality, high in protein Greek yogurt more accessible can help children get the nutrients they need to grow and the better food they deserve. It's time to update these outdated standards and policies that do not fully benefit our nation's schoolchildren. We're grateful to Senators Schumer and Crapo for championing this issue and putting Greek yogurt on a level playing field with other protein alternatives,' said Chobani.

Schumer explained Greek yogurt is a highly nutritious product that has become a popular and healthy food staple for millions of Americans, including students across the country that take part in the USDA Child Nutrition programs. Schumer said that starting in the fall of 2015, after his push, the USDA added Greek yogurt to its list of items available in the school lunch program nationwide. However, in a bipartisan letter with Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho sent last October, Schumer explained that under the USDA policy for crediting the protein contribution of meat and meat alternates in the USDA Child Nutrition programs' meal patterns, Greek yogurt is given inequitable credit for the protein it contributes compared to other protein food alternatives, which have less protein. Schumer said that this discrepancy causes products like Greek yogurt to not be competitive with the other alternatives, compared to the amount of protein for which it is given credit.

Greek yogurt is a nutrient-dense product high in protein and low in sodium, with essential nutrients like calcium and potassium, which many children are lacking in their diets today. Greek Yogurt is made by a different process than regular yogurts - an authentic straining process that uses 3 cups of milk for every cup of yogurt, resulting in an excellent source of naturally high-protein content. However, Schumer explained, currently, Greek yogurt is receiving less credit in the school programs than other products that have less protein. Schumer said that this is because the current crediting system that the USDA uses is outdated and doesn't accurately reflect the nutritional quality of Greek yogurt, which has been accepted in the School Lunch Program since July 2015 and which now accounts for 52 percent of the yogurt aisle.

According to company officials, Chobani supports updating the protein crediting system in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, making it more cost-competitive with other options currently offered to schools, creating an increased demand for milk and helping dairy farmers in upstate New York and across the U.S. Chobani estimates that updating protein crediting could increase demand for the Greek yogurt industry by more than 227 million cups. This could result in a significant boost in demand at a time when U.S. dairy farmers are facing unprecedented economic hardship.

Previously, Schumer led the charge for the creation of a USDA pilot program for Greek yogurt - as part of their School Lunch Program - and drove the process to include Greek yogurt permanently in the USDA school lunch program since the pilot was created:

  • In January 2013, Schumer announced that he successfully petitioned the USDA to increase the availability of New York-made Greek yogurt in school meal programs in New York State and potentially across the country. In a letter to Schumer, the USDA committed to initiating a pilot program that was expected to increase the availability of Greek Yogurt in schools across the country. Specifically, thanks to Schumer's effort, the USDA initiated this process, which first increased school's access to Greek yogurt on a pilot basis.
  • Then, on January 31, 2013, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) released a request for information (RFI) to gather information from potential vendors. Respondents indicated capacity to produce such yogurt in a variety of pack sizes and flavors. Based on that data, four states were selected to participate in the pilot. States were permitted to order any quantity of high protein yogurt they desired for delivery from September to November 2013, within the balance of their USDA foods entitlement. The four states orders for this time period totaled 199,800 pounds of yogurt.
  • In March 2014, Schumer announced that the initial pilot program would be expanded to twelve states: New York, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, California, Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Mississippi. Following the news that schools that participated in an initial 3-month Greek Yogurt pilot had consumed 200,000 pounds and $300,000-worth of Greek Yogurt, Schumer urged the USDA to expand this program to additional states for the 2015 school year in his pursuit of permanently adding this high-nutrition and protein-rich food to the USDA School Lunch Program.
  • In April 2015, the USDA officially added Greek yogurt to its list of items available in the School Lunch Program nationwide

Schumer explained that currently, Chobani employs over 1,000 people at their New Berlin plant and their Norwich and SoHo offices, and purchases all of their dairy from New York State.

A copy of Schumer's 2018 letter to USDA appears below.

Dear Secretary Perdue,

We write to bring to your attention an ongoing issue that is affecting the role of strained, high-protein yogurt (i.e., Greek yogurt) in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Greek yogurt is a highly nutritious product that has become a popular healthy food staple for millions of Americans, including our students in the USDA Child Nutrition programs.

However, under the USDA policy for crediting the protein contribution of meat/meat alternates in the meal patterns, Greek yogurt is given inequitable credit for the protein it contributes compared to other protein food alternates, which have less protein and protein that is lower in quality. This discrepancy causes products like Greek yogurt to cost more to schools to be competitive with the other alternatives, compared to the amount of protein for which it is given credit. Therefore, we ask that you finalize work on updating the protein crediting system for the school meal programs, and issue a report to Congress as soon as possible, in order to ensure that highly nutritious products like Greek yogurt are treated fairly in the crediting process.

Greek Yogurt is a nutrient-dense product high in protein and low in sodium, with essential nutrients like calcium and potassium, which many children are lacking in their diets today. Greek yogurt is made by a different process than regular yogurts -- an authentic straining process that uses 3 cups of milk for every cup of yogurt, resulting in an excellent source of naturally high-quality protein. However, currently, Greek yogurt is receiving less credit in the school meal programs than other products that have less protein. This is because the current crediting system that USDA uses is outdated and doesn't accurately reflect the nutritional quality of Greek yogurt, which has been accepted in the school meals program since July 2015, and which is now 52 percent of the yogurt aisle.

As you may know, in the FY17 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that became law in May of 2017, Report language was included directing USDA to review the current system of protein crediting for the school meal programs and report back to Congress within 180 days with the results of the review. Although the November 2017 deadline passed, we appreciate the USDA request for information that was posted in December 2017, with comments submitted by February 2018. We therefore we urge you to direct all available resources to swiftly issue a report to Congress on the conclusion of the protein crediting system review with assurances that the inequity for Greek yogurt can be remedied by an efficient policy change. This will help ensure that we are using providing the most nutritious options to our students nationwide.

In closing, we look forward to your response on this matter and to continuing working with you and your staff to promote the health of our nation's school children through the USDA Child Nutrition programs.

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