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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE October 14, 2002

USDA School-Lunch Policies Discriminate Against Minorities, Say Doctors

Petition to Be Filed Tuesday; Agency Should Update Milk Policy to Reflect Changing Needs of School Children

WASHINGTON—Federal regulations that mandate cow’s milk in school lunches but disallow other calcium-rich beverages are archaic and discriminate against minorities, many of whom are lactose-intolerant, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

The organization will file a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on October 15 challenging a policy that prohibits schools from serving soymilk or other non-dairy beverages as part of a subsidized lunch unless a child brings a doctor’s note saying he or she has a medical reason not to drink cow’s milk. The cultural insensitivity, cost, and inconvenience of this policy frustrate many parents who depend on school lunches for their children. Additionally, many children prefer soymilk, juice, or other dairy alternatives because of taste or ethical reasons. October 14-18 is National School Lunch Week.

PCRM charges that the USDA is violating the National School Lunch Act, which requires the USDA to accommodate all children’s dietary needs. The government provides nearly 28 million children with subsidized or free lunches each day.

“When the National School Lunch Program was established in the 1940s, lactose intolerance was thought to be rare, but it is now known to be the rule among children of color,” says PCRM chief legal counsel Mindy Kursban. “The majority of African, Hispanic, Native, and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant. A normal condition, lactose intolerance starts in childhood and leads to variety of digestive symptoms after drinking milk.

“In the 1940s, no one knew about the various health problems associated with cow’s milk such as asthma, allergies, and increased risk of heart disease and some cancers, particularly prostate cancer. No one took into account the religious restrictions some cultures have regarding milk, or the philosophical objection some children have to consuming animal products. And, certainly, no one knew how popular soymilk would become. It’s time the USDA gave America’s kids the healthy choices they need.”

Soymilk has fewer calories and less fat and sodium than whole cow’s milk, but it provides an equivalent amount of calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health, dairy milk is the number-one source of saturated fat in children’s diets. The USDA is currently drafting regulations to allow soymilk into the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

PCRM won a lawsuit against the USDA in 2000 over the agency’s concealing financial conflicts of interest among the members of one of its influential dietary advisory committees. Six out of 11 members of the committee were shown to have links with the meat, dairy, and egg industries.

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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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