Brave Student Sues the USDA and Her School District for Censoring Milk Critique
Los Angeles student Marielle Williamson was told by her high school that she could not share information critical of the dairy industry without also providing pro-dairy messaging. Now she’s suing the Los Angeles Unified School District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violating her First Amendment right to free speech.
Williamson’s case was filed on her behalf by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit group of physicians, dietitians, and scientists who work with “policymakers, industry, the medical community, the media, and the public to create a better future for people and animals.” Williamson, the head of her school’s Animal Awareness Club and a student in the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition leadership program, said in a statement:
The fact that a differing perspective from a student was shut down goes to show that the USDA is more focused on milk sales than the well-being of students. This lawsuit was the only way to make people aware of how wrong this is.
Under the National School Lunch Program, “fluid milk”—cow’s milk—must be served at every school lunch and breakfast, despite milk’s devastating costs to the environment, animals, and public health. Even in New York City, where all public school cafeterias are required to serve vegan food on Fridays, dairy milk must be offered as well. Anna Herby, PCRM’s nutrition education program manager, shared:
As we grow up, many of us lose the ability to produce the enzyme lactose, and therefore, cannot digest lactose-containing products like cow’s milk. As a result, the lactose is not absorbed and instead remains in the intestine where it causes symptoms including upset stomach, diarrhea, and gas.
According to reports, Williamson’s school promotes dairy by displaying posters and even sharing “Got Milk?” ads in the morning announcements. Williamson’s case, the first of its kind, sheds light on the massive inequity between dairy milk and the plant-based milk sector. While our current food system is rigged against plant-based milk, the future looks brighter with strong young people like Marielle Williamson willing to stand up for justice.
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