Southern California dairies and produce providers could soon be thanking Washington for a pickup in business.

The federal government's redesigned "food pyramid," which offers updated nutritional guidelines, triples the suggested consumption of milk to three 8-ounce cups a day, while doubling the recommended consumption of vegetables and fruits.

After years during which milk consumption dropped off because of both dietary concerns over fat and the proliferation of soft drinks and other alternatives, dairy producers are rejoicing.

"It brings dairy products back to the center of nutrition," said Jeep Dolan, whose family owns Driftwood Dairy in El Monte, the largest provider of milk to Southern California school districts. "The previous pyramid was unfair. It was not as favorable to us as the new one."

Government recommendations can make or break a food industry, since its nutritional guidelines help determine what goes on menus at government food programs and school lunch programs huge institutional consumers of food.

It's the first time in 13 years that the government's food guidelines were revised, and this time dairy, more than any other industry, is a winner something that will likely give a boost to producers of milk, cheese and other dairy products.

The new pyramid was preceded by several years of lobbying and touting of scientific studies by food industry groups jockeying for a piece of the government endorsement.

"We've been working on it for a number of years, to improve the dairy position on the pyramid," said Mike Marsh, head of the Western United Dairymen, the largest trade organization representing California's multibillion-dollar dairy industry. "Getting the USDA to move on anything takes almost an act of Congress."

Monetary issues
The dietary guidelines were released in January by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The guidelines must be reviewed every five years, but not necessarily revised. They were last changed in 1992.

This latest revision, which took four years, was issued by the USDA after recommendations from a 13-member committee, consisting of nutritionists and doctors, who reviewed the latest nutritional research. Public comment also was taken from industry groups, nutrition advocates and others.

It's a lengthy process with a lot at stake.

Nutritionists say the guidelines don't go far enough to discourage people from eating salt, sugar and refined grains, but they till provided a boost to agricultural interests, who also lauded the promotion of fruits and vegetables.

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