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New Milk Campaign Sparks Criticism from Produce Industry

WASHINGTON - The backers of the 5 A Day for Better Health program, which advocates produce consumption, is at odds with the dairy industry over a new 3-A-Day for Stronger Bones campaign the dairy group is launching this month, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reports.

The dispute involves blue-chip public health agencies, trademark lawyers and agricultural lobbies.

The 5 A Day for Better Health push was launched 11 years ago to encourage eating more produce to prevent cancer and other diseases. Partners in the campaign include the National Cancer Institute, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, state health departments and two produce industry groups. The promotion, with annual funding of about $7 million, has had modest success.

The 3-A-Day campaign was initiated by the National Dairy Council, which gets its funding from fees collected from dairy producers to promote their products. The dairy pitch's $25 million launch has sparked strong criticism from produce advocates.

The 5 A Day promoters worry that the dairy slogan will confuse consumers into eating just three daily servings of produce while encouraging the consumption of dairy foods high in saturated fat.

Not so, says Ann Marie Krautheim, a spokeswoman and a registered dietitian with National Dairy Council. "This is an initiative geared to curb the calcium crisis in this country," she said. "People are not meeting their calcium recommendations, and dairy is a simple, easy, good-tasting way for moms and kids, who this program targets."

The 3-A-Day logo --- complete with hyphens missing from the 5 A Day promos --- will appear on milk, cheese or yogurt that provides at least 20 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium.

The dairy industry is searching for ways to increase consumption. Milk drinking dropped from 28.2 gallons a person per year in the early 1970s to 22.5 gallons in 1997. Nearly half the milk produced in the United States is consumed as cheese.

Some nutritionists say they are troubled by the 3-A-Day promotion of all types of milk, cheese and yogurt, rather than low-fat or fat-free choices. One of the few successes in boosting milk-drinking in recent years has been in new varieties of flavored milks, some high in added sugar, favored by teens and "tweens."

"We have non-fat and low-fat products available and people should choose the product that meets their nutritional and taste requirements," said Krautheim of the dairy council. "The information is right on the package label for people to see."

Most nutritionists say dairy products are good sources of calcium, especially for children, but not the only one. Other sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables and fortified orange juice and soy milk.

There's also more to building strong bones than consuming calcium, nutritionists say.

"All the billboards imply that drinking milk is the most important thing you can do to prevent fractures," said Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It may have virtually no effect. Physical activity, regular exercise, is very effective for preventing fractures. That's been supported by many studies."
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