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January 31, 2013

Schumer: Program to bring Greek yogurt to schools

An area Greek yogurt maker and others around the state could benefit from a recently announced U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a media release that he successfully petitioned the USDA to increase the availability of Greek yogurt, made by several companies in New York, including Chobani, in school meal programs.

The USDA committed to initiate a pilot program that could start in April. It will increase school access to the product.

If successful, the yogurt could become a permanent part of the USDA foods list for schools nationwide, Schumer said. It would lay the groundwork to create a separate crediting standard for strained yogurt — also known as Greek yogurt — to reflect its higher protein content.

Schumer explained that through this pilot, the USDA will work to add Greek yogurt to its list of more than 180 nutritious foods that state agencies are eligible to buy with USDA food entitlement money, rather than a federal reimbursement.

“Soon, New York-made, healthy and protein-rich Greek yogurt could be what’s for lunch in schools across New York and even the country,” Schumer said. “I applaud the USDA for heeding my call and working diligently and effectively to initiate a pilot program.

“We applaud Sen. Schumer and the USDA for their work on this initiative,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and chief executive officer of Chobani. “This pilot program will allow schools better access to Greek yogurt, giving them a cost-effective, nutritious and delicious way to diversify their menus and supply the protein that students need. This is also a win for New York State’s economy and our dairy farmers in particular, as it takes three pounds of milk to make one pound of Chobani.”

Company corporate director Melissa Stagnaro said the company employs almost 1,500 people. It has invested about $250 million at its South Edmeston facility.

She thanked Schumer as well as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Richard Hanna for “their tremendous advocacy of Greek yogurt, our dairy industry and central New York as a whole. We truly appreciate their support.”

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