Obama ‘presidential ambassador’ scores major USDA school lunch contract

Jul 22, 2014 by

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “There’s a lot of money involved in feeding our kids at school,” Michelle Obama recently told children at the White House. Just ask Hamdi Ulukaya.

Ulukaya’s company, Chobani Greek yogurt, was the beneficiary of a “very fast” decision from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2013 to use Greek yogurt on a trial basis in four states’ school lunch programs.

The USDA normally takes years to consider a new product for the lunch program, but not this time. The feds approved Greek yogurt in just eight months, and awarded the contract to Chobani, New York Daily News reports.

Things just keep getting better for Ulukaya and his company. This fall, the feds are expanding Chobani’s reach to school lunches in 12 states.

Syracuse.com reports:

Last year, the USDA included Chobani Greek yogurt as an option for children to choose with their lunch from September to November, testing to see if it would be a popular choice. By the end of the test, the children had consumed 200,000 pounds of yogurt worth $300,000. …

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, worked with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, to convince the USDA to test Greek yogurt in school lunches. The USDA agreed in January 2013 to classify Greek yogurt as an acceptable protein, or meat substitute, because Greek yogurt has about twice the protein of regular yogurt.

Schumer appears to have been the main driver for getting the USDA to select Chobani, which is headquartered in the senator’s state, as its Greek-yogurt supplier of choice.

“After at least three calls from the persistent senator, (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom) Vilsack helped arranged a Sept. 20, 2012 meeting in Schumer’s Capitol Hill office with Kevin Concannon, the key official for food, nutrition and consumer services,” the New York Daily News reports.

Concannon declined to discuss the situation with the newspaper.

In addition to schmoozing Schumer and Gillibrand, Ulukaya has been cozying up to Obama to get some of that money Michelle Obama referred to.

The CEO was named by President Obama as a “Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship” and met with him in a “closed-press” meeting in the White House.

“It is a great honor for me to be elected to the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship by President Barack Obama. I had the happiest day of my life to be here as a Turkish businessman. I shared my success story with Obama,” Ulukaya told DailySabah.com in April 2014.

Two months later, Newsmax reported Obama “recruited” Ulukaya to be among a group of CEOs pushing for immigration reform.

Along with [Steve] Case, currently chairman and chief executive of venture-capital firm Revolution LLC, the others scheduled to attend the White House gathering are Jason Berry, owner of Blueberry Farms of Georgia and Berry Farms; Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president and chief executive of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.; Sunil Puri, founder, First Rockford Group Inc., a real estate firm; Dilawar Syed, chief executive of Yonja Media Group; Hamdi Ulukaya, chief executive, founder and president of Chobani Inc., producer of Chobani Greek yogurt; Bricia Lopez, co-owner of the Guelaguetza Restaurante in Los Angeles, and San Francisco area entrepreneur Alex Torrenegra.

Ulukaya again met with Obama, according to a White House press statement cited by Newsmax.

Despite the senators greasing the skids and the company CEO cozying up to the power brokers, critics question the real health value of Ulukaya’s product.

In a piece titled, “Is it Science or Lobbyists?” writer Kristina Pepelko notes at OneGreenPlanet.org:

In just the past few years, Greek yogurt has risen to food stardom in the U.S. and has been touted as a healthy, high-protein food. LiveStrong states, “One cup of plain, low-fat conventional yogurt usually contains five to 10 grams of protein, where Greek yogurt averages about 13 to 20 grams of protein.” The website also mentions that Greek yogurt is low in sodium and carbohydrates and is easy to digest, as compared to traditional yogurts. Many other sources praise the weight loss properties of Greek yogurt as well.

But is Greek yogurt really such a healthy choice? It seems to be a good fit for Michelle Obama’s new National School Lunch program offerings as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 since it’s a higher protein, lower-fat and lower-sugar yogurt, reports Reason.com.

Yet the Greek yogurt being proposed for the nationally subsidized school lunch program is not the Greek yogurt admired for its many benefits—it’s simply Greek-style yogurt.

Traditional Greek yogurt, which has been studied and proven to have health benefits, is strained three times and is a full-fat variety whereas most Greek-style yogurt on the market now is only strained once and contains zero fat, offering little of Greek yogurt’s reported health benefits.

Moreover, anyone knowledgeable about factory farming and the downside of diary knows that dairy-based yogurt is not necessarily better for one’s health and is certainly not the best choice for the environment and the animals involved in the industry.

Pepelko notes Ulukaya is no dummy when it comes to courting government bureaucrats.

… Chobani has made a significant financial investment to be at the forefront of this new program and potentially come out as the victor. The New York-based company has already paid $80,000 to Cornerstone Government Affairs to lobby Congress on its behalf. Among its lobbyists are former agricultural department employees.

So will millions of kids be compelled to eat Chobani Greek yogurt this fall because government bureaucrats really think it’s healthy, or because a savvy CEO cozied up to the Obama administration and spent tens of thousands of dollars to land the contract?

Chicago Way: Obama ‘presidential ambassador’ scores major USDA school lunch contract – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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