White House conferences on hunger and diet-related health are a rare occurrence. In fact, it’s been more than 50 years since the only one that’s ever been convened.
But that’s changing next month, with the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health this September. And given the critical importance of dairy to diet and the unfair criticisms dairy receives from its opponents, the conference presents an opportunity for the industry to show leadership in the fight against hunger and diet-related diseases, because dairy already takes a holistic and systematic approach to providing nutritious food.
When the White House announced its goals of ending hunger, enhancing healthy eating and physical activity, and reducing the prevalence of diet-related diseases across the nation, NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern called dairy products “a key ingredient” in this effort, for many reasons. Dairy foods are healthful and affordable. Milk is a nutrient powerhouse, proving 13 essential vitamins and nutrients at one of the lowest costs around.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans shows that dietary patterns including dairy are associated with beneficial health outcomes, including lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The guidelines also identify dairy products as a critical source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D; three of the four nutrients of public health concern.
Because of the important role dairy foods play in nutritious diets and healthy living, ensuring people’s continued access to plentiful, healthy, and affordable dairy products must be a critical component in the White House’s strategic plan to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity that’s expected to be released at the September conference.
That access requires, among other things, sustainable food production. The dairy industry already leads in environmental and responsible business sustainability. Ranging from its industry-led Net Zero Initiative, to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2050, to the National Dairy FARM Program’s resources to ensure animal welfare, workforce development, environmental stewardship, antibiotic stewardship, and biosecurity on its farms, the dairy sector has demonstrated leadership and developed expertise in responsible and sustainable production.
Dairy also knows, from its long history of providing nutritious food, that consumers need to be able to make informed nutrition choices to end nutrition insecurity and reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases. The sector has long worked to protect integrity and transparency in the marketplace, including spearheading efforts to compel the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce its own standards of identity. FDA’s lack of enforcement has allowed misleading food labels to falsely imply nutritional equivalency, causing misinformed consumer choices that harm public health.
Dairy also leads efforts to protect choice of nutritious food options in federal programs. Without choices that allow for cultural influences, nutritional needs, and taste preferences, Americans will not have access to food they will actually eat and the nutrients it provides.
Much has changed since the first White House conference in 1969, but dairy is well-prepared to lead as the forum returns. In late June, NMPF led 11 national agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition, and medical groups in a virtual listening session, urging the White House to prioritize access to affordable, diverse, and nutritious foods in its upcoming conference. The White House also has extended an open invitation for this knowledge and real-world experience to help inform its hunger and nutrition strategy. Dairy farmers, industry professionals, and allies should seize this opportunity, both before the conference and beyond.
The conference is a rare moment of top-level attention to issues that affect millions of Americans. It’s time to highlight dairy’s critical role in providing the nourishment Americans need – and build an even stronger role in the generations to come.