“Soy farmers, soy processors and soyfood manufacturers have the goal of making our federal nutrition programs more effective in improving the nutritional intake and health of all children,” says ASA member Rob Joslin, a soybean producer from Sidney, Ohio. “We want schools to have the opportunity to offer soymilk to children receiving meals under federal child nutrition programs.”

Joslin, who also serves as the President of the Ohio Soybean Association, represented both the ASA and the Soyfoods Association of North America (SANA), two organizations that care greatly about the nutritional adequacy of the diets of students, and want Congress to modify the current laws to assure that schools can easily provide nutritional foods for all children regardless of their health, cultural, or religious needs.

“I want to make one thing clear at the outset,” Joslin says. “Providing an option to offer soymilk to meet the nutritional needs of children who do not consume dairy products and thus are not served by the current federal child nutrition programs, would complement, not replace cow’s milk in the program.”

School food service directors from across the country have written hundreds of letters in support of soymilk as an option for their school children who don’t drink cow’s milk to have an opportunity to consume a beverage containing protein, calcium, vitamin D and other essential nutrients for growth and development. Fortified soymilk contains calcium, vitamin A and Vitamin D equivalent to cow’s milk, as well as iron, B vitamins and high quality protein. Soymilk is low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol.

SANA has recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) set nutritional requirements for soymilk served in federal nutrition programs that establish 7 grams of protein, 300 milligrams of calcium, as well as 100 International Units (IU) of vitamin D and 500 IU of vitamin A per eight ounce serving. Soymilk meeting these nutritional requirements would provide a nutritionally comparable product to cow’s milk currently offered in the federal nutrition programs.

Many children served by the school lunch and other child nutrition programs, particularly those from minority populations, do not consume cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is prevalent in some population groups as early as two years of age. Studies have shown lactose intolerance in up to 85 percent of Asian-American, 72 percent of African-American, 70 percent of Native American, 56 percent of Hispanic-American, and 21 percent of Caucasian-American school aged youth. It is also estimated that up to 2.5 percent of infants and children are allergic to cow’s milk. For these children, lactose-free cow’s milk is not an acceptable alternative.

“Let me clarify that what we are asking for is to allow schools the option to offer fortified soymilk as part of a reimbursable meal in USDA’s child nutrition programs,” Joslin says. “The language drafted by ASA and SANA is not a mandate for soymilk. It would simply allow soymilk as a reimbursable option for schools serving children who do not drink cow’s milk.”

Under the current system, USDA does not reimburse schools for soymilk unless the student provides a statement from a physician or other recognized medical authority. For low income households going to a health care professional may not be possible or affordable. The option of utilizing school nurses is also impractical because many schools have only part-time nurses on the premises. The involvement of the medical community in providing documentation for children who do not consume cow’s milk for non-medical cultural or religious reasons is also inappropriate.

Offering soymilk on an á la carte basis is not practical for children who are low income and receive a free or reduced price meal, but cannot drink dairy milk. Schools are not reimbursed for á la carte items, and children from low income families are often unable to purchase these options.

“We anticipate that the demand for soymilk in federal nutrition programs will begin slowly and increase steadily over time with increased awareness of this option for children,” Joslin says. “This phase-in would give suppliers time to formulate and package a product that could be priced competitively with cow’s milk.”