Rep. Troy Carter wants to require dairy alternatives in school lunches

Vast majority of minority students are lactose intolerant but denied milk alternatives without doctor’s note

By: - October 20, 2022 4:32 pm

Second-grader Madison Marchand on her first day of school at Claiborne Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of the Caddo School System)

U.S. Rep Troy Carter is calling for the federal government  to bring equity to the lunchroom by providing milk alternatives for lactose intolerant K-12 students, many of whom are people of color. 

Carter and 31 other members of Congress signed a letter calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture  to provide soy milk to students. They have asked the Equity Commission at the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to reassess its milk program and conduct a civil rights impact analysis.

The federal government provides reimbursement for school lunches that meet strict nutritional standards, one of which is providing milk. 

Students can only receive a milk alternative if they have a doctor’s note, which Carter argues is an equity concern considering the high rates of lactose intolerance in minority populations. Several studies have noted that as many as 65% of Latino students, 75% of Black students and 90% of Asian students are lactose intolerant.

“America needs to embrace its diversity at the school lunch counter,” Carter said in a statement. 

Requiring a “milk note” for students who are far more likely to be lactose intolerant than not leads to significant food waste, Congress members said in the letter, pointing to a 2019 USDA report that American schools throw out $300 million worth of milk annually. 

“The reality is, millions of kids across America’s schools are given milk on their lunch trays that will make them feel sick, or that will immediately be discarded,” Carter said. 

Several advocacy groups have also appealed to the USDA to offer milk alternatives. 

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action, argues that the agency’s requirement of a carton of milk on every tray amounts to a profit-making opportunity for the dairy industry. Pacelle argues the USDA is denying children access to drinks that won’t make them sick. 

A spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association said that while the association respects efforts to seek equity in federal nutrition programs, they believe the current law is flexible enough to accommodate Carter’s request. 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.