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As Wyoming looks at school protein enhancement program, House asks if yak is on the menu


CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming launched a pilot “school protein enhancement” pilot program in 2017 which began to explore making meat from Wyoming livestock a part of school lunches.

Rep. Scott Heiner (Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta County) said during the House of Representatives’ Monday, March 1 floor session that he thinks the pilot program has been a success and encouraged the House to pass House Bill 52 which would establish the school protein enhancement program moving forward.

Heiner said he thinks there are three benefits of the program:

  • “lowers the cost of our school nutritional program by utilizing donated meat”
  • “improves the quality of meat that our children consume”
  • “builds upon the relationship between schools and our agricultural industry by allowing the ag community to support their local schools and I might say they are very proud of being able to do that”

House Bill 52 would direct the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) to make up to $25,000 available on an annual basis for a grant program to help school districts cover the cost of processing donated meat. School districts would be responsible for half the cost with the WDE covering the other half of the meat processing costs.

Heiner said that the proposed legislation “not only enables livestock producers to donate animals to the local school districts, but it also allows animals that are purchased in county fairs to be donated to school districts as well to support this program.”

He added that school districts requested the following funding amounts under the pilot program:

  • 2017-2018 school year: Four school districts requested $4,230 with one district completing the full request process being reimbursed $260
  • 2018-2019: 10 school districts requested $25,000 with nine districts completing the full request process being reimbursed $11,425
  • 2019-2020: Six school districts requested $16,400 with two districts completing the full request process being reimbursed $3,400

The proposed legislation would allow the WDE funding to help cover processing fees of “Wyoming poultry, lamb, pork, beef and bison used in school meals.”

Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (Campbell, Converse County) noted that yak were not included among the list of animals which could be donated toward school lunches.

“A yak is a bovine so they would be included,” House Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Chair John Eklund (Laramie, Goshen County) said in response to this question.

Barlow also asked how the legislation defines whether a donated animal is a “Wyoming” animal.

“What is a ‘Wyoming’ animal? Is that an animal that got bought in South Dakota and brought to Wyoming?” he asked. “Are we confident we are getting Wyoming livestock?”

Barlow also asked whether the proposed legislation requires that the meat be processed at an in-state processing plant or not.

“Are we talking about in-state processors or is it open to all processors?” he asked.

Rep. Aaron Clausen said in response that “any animal can be donated to this program no matter where they came from.” He added that the meat could be processed through any (approved) processor. The bill would allow the Wyoming Department of Education to establish rules limiting where donated animals could be processed.

Eklund said that there a limited number of USDA-approved processing plants in some parts of the state but that the Agriculture Committee was sponsoring other bills this session that aim to address this lack.

Rep. Art Washut (Natrona County) asked whether the committee had considered extending the program to encourage making donated Wyoming meat available to other institutions such as the University of Wyoming, community colleges or prisons.

Heiner said that would like to see meat donated to places like senior centers as well “if we have livestock owners or individuals that would like to donate.”

Eklund said that House Bill 52 was specifically focused on school lunches, but that the legislature could look at establishing similar programs for other types on institutions through separate legislation.

House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly (Albany) expressed support for the bill but asked whether there had been any discussion about a “mechanism to bolster the matching funding” since the the state is facing challenges in terms of providing education funding.

Clausen said that program would likely be an advantage to schools in terms of their food budgets since the program relies on donated meat.

Heiner noted that the pilot program since 2017 hadn’t exceeded $25,000 in reimbursements to districts, though the hope is that more districts will participate moving forward.

Eklund said in response to feedback provided during the floor session, the House Agriculture Committee would prepare some amendments to clean up the bill on second reading.

The House passed House Bill 52 on first reading Monday.