PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A state House committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to allow school districts to offer whole milk to school children.
That could put districts in conflict with federal rules that allow only skim milk for federally funded lunch programs.
"How about a toast real quick with our milk," exclaimed state Rep. Dan Moul, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
With a toast using whole milk, and chocolate milk at that, the Agriculture Committee unanimously approved a bill to give school districts the option to offer Pennsylvania-produced whole milk to school children.
"Many dairy farmers across the commonwealth believe that we are losing a whole generation of milk drinkers since kids are forced into drinking lousy tasting skim milk at school. Most of these skim milk cartons end up in the trash. Talk to any school cafeteria worker and they will tell you this," says state Rep. John Lawrence, a Chester County Republican, and bill sponsor.
Skim milk was mandated – and whole milk and 2 percent milk banned – by the Obama administration in 2010 for schools in the federal food lunch program.
That, says dairy farmers, has led to a 35 percent decline in milk consumption in the second-largest dairy state even though whole milk, while more caloric, is nutritious for kids and tastes better.
"There are many, many children that receive whole milk at home and there's a significant difference in taste between whole milk at home and going to the schools and skim milk," says Dave Smith, executive director of the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association.
WATCH: Jon Delano Reports
"Since 2010, 2,140 dairy farms in the state of Pennsylvania have closed their doors. That's a lot," says state Rep. Clint Owlett, a Bradford County Republican.
State Rep. Emily Kinkead, a Brighton Heights Democrat who is on the committee and supports the bill, worries schools that allow whole milk may risk federal funding.
"Even though I'm supportive of this bill, we may be running into issues where any school district that opts into this program could actually be at risk of losing federal funding to provide school meals at a time when they're already struggling to pay for school meals," Kinkead told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
The bill's sponsor says keeping the milk within state borders takes away the feds' right to regulate.
"Milk that is produced in Pennsylvania, bottled in Pennsylvania, transported to a Pennsylvania school, and is paid for with state or local funds for consumption by Pennsylvania school children is an entirely intra-state issue," says Lawrence.
"The federal government has no oversight over intrastate commerce issues," he adds.
"If they're sending federal monies to cover the cost of meals for students, then it doesn't matter where you're buying the milk from," says Kinkead.
All but seven school districts in the state get federal food assistance. KDKA reached out to both the state Education Department and the federal Food and Nutrition Service for their reaction. None yet.
This bill does require the state attorney general to defend any school district that gets in trouble with the feds for offering whole milk to its children.
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