Civil rights groups, including Al Sharpton-led organization, urge USDA to fix ‘dietary racism’ in school lunch programs

Twenty-eight civil rights and health groups announced Tuesday that they have called on the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address "dietary racism" in national school feeding programs, raising concerns about the federal agency forcing millions of minority children to drink cow's milk without milk give them a healthier alternative.
In a letter to the USDA's Equity Commission, the groups said the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) only incentivizes cow's milk, a policy they called "inherently unjust and socially unjust" because children of color are more likely to be lactose intolerant – meaning you cannot fully digest sugars in dairy products and may experience side effects after consuming them.
The NSLP covers 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the United States, a program in which children of color have historically been overrepresented, according to civil rights groups.
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"If black lives matter, so does our health and nutrition, but the National School Lunch Program has consistently failed children of color," said Milton Mills, a Washington, D.C. emergency medicine physician who has researched the issue, in an explanation. "Either schoolchildren drink the milk they are given and suffer in class while trying to learn, or they skip a nutritionally significant portion of their meal."
The letter was signed by leading national groups including the Progressive Democrats of America, the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Center for a Humane Economy, and the Washington Bureau of the National Action Network, which was founded by became civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.
The USDA reimburses schools that fall under the 76-year NSLP if they offer liquid milk during meals, which soy milk or other types of organic milk doesn't cover. Milk must be served with every meal.
The federal agency allows a substitute meal, but it requires a written statement from a student's parent or guardian, and schools must notify the state of a substitute. According to the civil rights and health organizations, a written medical certificate may also be required, which most families cannot obtain.
"It is patently discriminatory to require a medical certificate for an almost universal disease," they wrote in the letter. "Black, Native American, Asian and Hispanic children are being punished for their race and heritage."
According to the civil rights and health groups, 80 percent of blacks and Latinos, more than 90 percent of Asians, and more than 80 percent of Native Americans are lactose intolerant, compared to 15 percent of whites.
They estimated that millions of minority children could be affected in the classroom because of the USDA policy and urged the agency to allow soymilk, a federally recognized nutritional product, as an official substitute in the NSLP.
"It is hard to imagine a more unjust and socially unjust USDA practice than force-feeding [minority] children in our schools milk," the letter reads.
"Until children of color are adequately cared for in the USDA-funded NSLP, the 'And Justice for All' posters that the agency is requiring participating public schools to put up in their cafeterias are nothing but empty rhetoric as millions of underserved Injustices are done to children every day,” they added.
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