It’s no secret that consumers, overall, are drinking less milk. The trend line has been consistent, and the statistics are startling. In the past decade, fluid milk sales have fallen about 13 percent, according to the American Dairy Coalition.

According to information from the American Farm Bureau Federation, beverage milk consumption plummeted by 25 percent between the 1980s and 2015, with the biggest declines in conventional milk consumption seen in reduced-fat, non-flavored milk products such as 2 percent, 1 percent and skim.

Naturally, this has taken a severe toll on the dairy industry. Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture farmers’ share of the food dollar estimates, the decline in fluid milk sales represents $884 million per year in farm-level dairy cash receipts.

For many, lifelong milk-drinking habits are established in school, where, for the past several years, students have only had access to lower-fat options that, to be honest, simply don’t do milk justice; skim milk just can’t hold a candle to a glass of whole milk.

But take heart, young milk drinkers. A new bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would bring whole milk, both flavored and unflavored, back to the lunch line.

Minnesota Democrat and House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson, who sits on the ag committee, late last month unveiled the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019, recognizing the “importance of milk to the health and well-being of growing children.”

Thompson said he hopes this bill will bring a wider range of milk options to cafeterias so students can select the one they like best.

“Milk is the No. 1 source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of our students, but if they don’t drink it, these health benefits are lost,” he said. “Milk consumption has been declining in schools throughout the nation because kids are not consuming the varieties of milk being made available to them.”

Peterson said the bill will not only provide more choices for students, but it’ll offer a valuable market for dairy farmers at a time when they desperately need it. Market conditions are expanded to continue to be a challenge for much of 2019.

This legislation builds on previous bills and a 2017 USDA rule that allowed schools to get waivers for low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk instead of serving only fat-free.

School milk has faced a bit of a battle in recent years, with passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Acts in 2010. As part of sweeping changes in nutrition standards in school lunches, the bill mandated that flavored milk in the program must be fat-free. By 2012, low-fat flavored milk no longer was an option.

All of this contributed to an alarming drop-off in milk consumption.

To help encourage nutritious options in the program and boost consumption, Thompson introduced the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2017, giving schools the option to serve 1 percent flavored milk varieties.

Of course, this latest bill is an easy one for farm and dairy groups to get behind, and they promptly weighed in.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, says this would give schools the flexibility to offer the same kinds of milk that students (hopefully) enjoy at home and expand milk options to help ensure students get the nutrients that milk uniquely provides, such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium.

The IDFA, along with the National Milk Producers Federation, say recent research supports adding whole milk to school menus to provide important nutritional benefits for growing children and give school administrators one more tool with which to develop healthy eating habits at a young age.

“Whole milk provides yet another way for children to receive dairy’s nutritional benefits as part of a healthy eating pattern,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “This bill encourages the proper nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.”

Calling on dairy producers, allied businesses and dairy industry employees to reach out to federal legislators and ask them to support H.R. 832, the ADC said the reintroduction of more milk varieties in school lunch programs could “develop a new generation of milk drinkers.”

The proposal also drew support from others, including delegates last month at the Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention in Appleton.

The way we see it, this bill is an important step in the right direction — both for dairy farm families struggling to make ends meet and for growing young people nationwide.