By Julian Hattem - 07/08/13 06:03 PM EDT
The Obama administration wants to add Greek yogurt to school lunch menus.
On Monday, the Department of Agriculture announced it was looking to buy the yogurt for schools participating in a federally assisted program that subsidizes school lunches.
A department official said in a statement that the introduction of Greek yogurt, which is high in protein, was aimed at helping schools offer a variety of healthy foods to kids.
Those states were chosen because they "represent different regions of the country with varying proximity to yogurt manufacturers and will help test distribution through different warehousing models," according to a USDA spokeswoman.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pushed the USDA to add Greek yogurt to the federal program since last June, and cheered the announcement on Monday.
"Schools in New York, and the other three states participating in the pilot, will soon see that Greek yogurt is an affordable and nutritious high-protein option for their menus,” he said in a statement.
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Schumer added that the USDA announcement was "a boon for New York yogurt and dairy industries, and it's beneficial for the health of our kids."
So far this year, Chobani, a New York-based company that produces the best-selling brand of Greek yogurt in the country, paid $80,000 to Cornerstone Government Affairs to lobby Congress on its behalf, according to federal records. The company first hired the lobbying firm last July, shortly after Schumer petitioned the USDA.
The company, which owns the largest yogurt manufacturing facility in the world, a nearly one-million-square-foot plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, also praised the USDA announcement.
"By offering this nutritious and tasty option to children in schools, it will help fuel their growing minds and bodies and support the development of healthy, balanced eating habits," the company said in a statement to The Hill.
Once the USDA finds a supplier, the yogurt will be sent to schools in the four states that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which fed more than 31 million children each day in 2011. In exchange for subsidies and food from the USDA, schools that participate must offer meals and snacks that meet federal requirements. All the program's meals are subsidized to a certain extent, but students with lower incomes can receive free or cheaper food.
The USDA will review whether the program is cost effective and develop the next steps by December.
-- This story was updated to clarify that Chobani produces the best-selling Greek yogurt brand in the country