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Some local dairy farmers have joined together in an educational campaign about whole milk. This bale sits at the intersection of Wener Road and Lickdale Road, just west of Fredericksburg.

HARRISBURG — G.N. Hursh has never tried skim or low-fat milk. He never wants to.

The Ephrata dairy farmer wants to make sure children have a choice on the milk they drink, too.

If kids were able to drink whole milk in schools, they'd like it, drink more milk and be healthier from it, he said yesterday after a pro-dairy rally at the state capitol.

Other Lancaster County dairy farmers like Anna Weaver, of East Earl, and Don Ranck, of Paradise Twp,. agree -- whole milk is best. 

"[Children] don't want to drink skim milk because it doesn't taste good," said Ranck, whose family owns Dairy View Farm in Paradise Twp. "But whole milk does. Chocolate milk does." Ranck is an officer with the Lancaster County Farm Bureau.

"The real thing is best," said Weaver, whose husband owns Hope Springs Farm in East Earl.

Hursh and other dairy advocates were at the state capitol yesterday for a legislative hearing and rally calling for more whole milk in schools. Reintegrating whole milk into schools would help the struggling dairy industry, advocates say. The industry has seen prices fall in the past few years, from less consumer demands and economic changes. In 2010, Congress passed a law that amended school lunch nutritional requirements to address childhood obesity rates. This law required only fat-free and 1% milk be served in schools, among other nutritional changes.

These changes, along with other economic factors, affected Ranck's business. His family has sold whole milk from his dairy farm through Land-O-Lakes for more than 100 years. Due to low milk prices, Ranck's farm is shifting gears from a dairy farm to a grass-fed beef farm.

Althea Zanecosky, a registered dietitian, testified during a state House Agriculture and Rural Affairs commission hearing on Monday that whole milk is the healthier option for children because it keeps them full. Lawmakers passed resolutions in support of federal legislation meant to address this and other dairy-related issues.

"Let children choose whole milk instead of no milk," she testified during the hearing.

The dairy industry has changed in recent years, as plant-based alternatives have hit shelves in grocery stores throughout the county, like almond and soy milks.

Officials in Congress, including U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Sen. Pat Toomey, have both introduced legislation that would make more milk choices available in schools. Thompson joined the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association and other state dairy farm organizations in Harrisburg yesterday as they called on Congress to pass these measures, including a measure that would enforce regulations about what constitutes a "milk" product.

Rep. John Lawrence, R-Christiana Borough and Sadsbury Twp. introduced a three-bill package to try and help the dairy industry in Pennsylvania, including a resolution that moved out of committee Tuesday to encourage Congress to pressure the United States Department of Agriculture to regulate what is labeled a "milk product."

"If I had a dollar bill for every farmer who has come up to me and talked about almond milk, honestly… [I'd have] quite a few," Lawrence said after the hearing.

Hursh, the Ephrata dairy farmer, is part of a grassroots effort by Pennsylvania dairy farmers called the 97% Fat Free campaign. This campaign is spread by painting hay bales with the words "97% fat free" and "drink whole milk" to debunk common perception about whole milk -- that it's high in fat. Whole milk is 3.25% butterfat.