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Milk carton shortage could impact school lunch program

A quartet of San Joaquin Valley legislators are raising the alarm on a looming milk carton shortage and called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find a solution before school lunch programs and the local dairy industry are severely impacted.

Representatives Josh Harder, 9th District; John Duarte, 13th, Jim Costa, 21st, and David G. Valadeo, 22nd District, in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, urged intervention on behalf of students, not only in California, but across the country.

Twenty percent of the nation’s milk supply comes from California, but a shortage of half-pint milk cartons produced by Pactiv Evergreen Inc. would prevent dairy manufacturers and farmers from delivering milk to schools. Milk is the top source of protein, calcium, and Vitamin D for kids ages 2-11 and it is required by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

“We can’t let a packaging supply issue cause disruptions for our local dairy industry or prevent students from getting the milk and nutrients they need,” said Rep. Harder. “Milk is a huge part of our local economy and it gives kids important nutrients so they can be healthy and ready to focus in the classroom. I’m calling on the USDA to come up with a plan so that our dairy farmers and manufacturers can continue delivering milk to schools.”

In the letter, the group of legislators noted their concern with the “widely reported half pint milk carton supply shortfalls” and asked for “prompt attention to this matter and a detailed response describing the actions the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) is taking to address this issue.”

California is the top milk producing state, the letter added, accounting for one-fifth of the United States’ total production.

“Much of California’s industry is headquartered in the San Joaquin Valley, a region we proudly represent in the United States Congress,” the legislators wrote.

In the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), fluid milk is one of the five required components that program operators must offer students at lunch.

“While the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) acknowledges that schools in multiple states are experiencing milk supply chain challenges related to packaging issues, we understand state agencies may allow program operators experiencing milk supply shortages to serve meals during an emergency period with an alternate form of fluid milk or without fluid milk. Although program operators are expected to meet the fluid milk requirements to the greatest extent possible, supply chain disruptions, including disruptions that limit milk variety or affect serving size, are considered a temporary emergency condition for purposes of this flexibility,” the letter stated.

Reports indicate shortage of half-pint milk cartons is hitting schools in several states including New York, Pennsylvania, California and Washington.

“Potential fines, breaches of contract, and milk substitutions are just a few of the looming effects our dairy manufacturers and farmers are preparing for due to this temporary emergency. Beyond the economic impact are the health impacts on our nation’s children as they miss out on one of NSLP’s five required components to a nutritious diet,” the legislators said. “As dairy manufacturers and farmers across the country continue navigating challenges caused by the milk carton shortage, it is vital that supply chain issues be addressed in an effective and timely manner. In the interest of both our regional dairy industry and with consideration of the far-reaching impact of this issue, we respectfully request your attention to this matter and that a solution be reached quickly.”