10.26.18

STANDING AT CHOBANI IN CHENANGO COUNTY, SCHUMER REVEALS: OUTDATED AND UNFAIR PROTEIN CREDITING SYSTEM DRIVING UP THE COST OF PROTEIN-RICH GREEK YOGURT IN NATIONAL SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAMS; SENATOR CALLS ON USDA TO IMMEDIATELY FINALIZE NEW PROTEIN CREDITING SYSTEM, ISSUE FINDINGS TO CONGRESS

After Schumer’s Major Push, In 2015, USDA Finally Included Greek Yogurt On Its List Of Items Available In The School Lunch Program; However, USDA’s Outdated Protein Crediting Policy Has Driven Up The Cost Of Greek Yogurt For Schools, Preventing It From Being More Widely Available 

Schumer Calls On USDA To Immediately Finalize An Updated Protein Crediting Policy And Issue Results To Congress ASAP – To Ensure Greek Yogurt Is Treated Fairly 

Schumer To USDA: The Fair Treatment Of Greek Yogurt Is A Win-Win-Win For Students, Dairy Farmers, And The Burgeoning Greek Yogurt Industry 

Standing at the founding factory of America’s #1 producer of Greek yogurt, Chobani, in New Berlin, N.Y., U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the United States 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 alternates, which have less protein. Schumer explained that because of this outdated policy, products like Greek yogurt, also known to schools as strained, high protein yogurt, cost more for schools to purchase, and because of this, are frequently not available under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

Schumer called on the USDA to immediately finalize updating the protein crediting system, and to issue a report to Congress as soon as possible, to ensure that highly nutritious products like Greek yogurt are treated fairly in the crediting process. Schumer said that ensuring the fair treatment of Greek yogurt in the protein crediting process would be a win-win-win for students, Upstate dairy farmers and the burgeoning Greek yogurt industry in New York State.

“High-protein Greek yogurt, just like that produced right here by Chobani, is exactly the type of food that should be widely accessible in the USDA School Meal programs as it’s healthy, high in protein and delicious. However, because of an outdated policy from the USDA, Greek yogurt is treated unfairly under this critical program, driving the cost schools pay for it through the roof,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m calling on the USDA to finalize a new, updated protein crediting policy at once for the National School Lunch Program. Ensuring the equal treatment of Greek Yogurt under these rules is a win-win-win for students, Upstate New York’s dairy farmers, and the burgeoning Greek yogurt industry in New York State.”

Chobani, which is America’s No. 1-selling Greek yogurt brand and the second largest overall yogurt manufacturer, calls New York State home. The company’s mission statement explains that it is a food-focused wellness company committed to providing better food to more people.

“Our nation’s schoolchildren deserve the most delicious and nutritious food options out there, and we simply can’t let outdated policies prevent that. Period,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani. “There’s been a lot of progress in the natural food movement over the past decade, and it’s very important that regulations keep up to serve the best interests of kids and families. That’s why we must address this issue now, and I’m grateful to Senators Schumer and Crapo for their tireless efforts to do so.”

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, 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 cost more to schools to be competitive with the other alternatives, compared to the amount of protein for which it is given credit. Because of this, Schumer called on the USDA to finalize work on updating the protein crediting system for the school meal programs, and issue a report to Congress as soon as possible.

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.

Schumer said that in the FY2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was signed into law in May of 2017, report language was included that directed the 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. Because the USDA missed this deadline, Schumer called on the agency 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.

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.

Schumer was joined by Chobani employees and management team, along with local community leaders including: Larry Wilcox, Chair of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors, Bradd Vickers, President of the Chenango County Farm Bureau, Steve Craig, President and CEO of Commerce Chenango, and Thomas Grace, Supervisor of the Town of Columbus.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the 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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