Last month, we warned you about some meddlesome “camels that are sticking their noses under the tent,” so to speak, and threatening to make life more difficult for dairy producers. Well, here’s another one — soymilk.

The rapid rise of soymilk is a phenomenon that needs to be watched.  Soyatech, a research firm that tracks the sale of soy products, estimates that last year’s retail sales of soymilk will reach $650 million, up 550 percent from the $100 million sold in 1995.

Soymilk now enjoys special status, along with other soy-based foods, in the “health aisles” of grocery stores. It makes you wonder why soymilk gets this special treatment when it is no healthier than cows’ milk, and may, in fact, be less healthy in terms of calcium availability and absorption.

The soy industry now wants soymilk included in the federally subsidized school lunch program. It wants school districts to be reimbursed for providing soymilk on the school-lunch lines — just as USDA has reimbursed the districts over the years for providing cows’ milk.

Congress will take up the subject next month during re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act. 

This time, the dairy industry needs to fight the soymilk encroachment head on.

No one is trying to deny the children a choice. Certainly, school districts can provide soymilk and other beverages to children on an “a la carte” basis.  But when it comes to the government subsidizing certain food and beverages, the priority must be on the health and nutrition of schoolchildren.

We think cows’ milk should remain the only government reimbursed beverage on the school-lunch menu for the following reasons:

  • Research at the University of Tennessee indicates that the type of calcium found in dairy foods is better absorbed than the type found in calcium supplements or other calcium-fortified foods. Many children need more calcium in their diets.
  • That same research by the University of Tennessee shows that calcium can rev-up a person’s metabolism, thus contributing to weight loss. Many of today’s youth are overweight.
  • Cows’ milk has withstood the test of time. Relatively little is known about the health advantages of soymilk.

Urge your congressional delegation to support S. 1367 and H.R. 3250, since these bills would improve the outlook for cows’ milk on school-lunch menus. And, remind them that cows’ milk should remain the only reimburseable beverage. It’s especially important to contact members of the House Education Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee.