Dairy industry representatives are to hold an industry wide summit on Tuesday (17 January) to discuss fears that the government may end school milk support, worth about 1.5m a year.

Established in the 1970s the EU subsidised School Milk Scheme provides funding for the provision of up to 250ml a day of whole or semi-skimmed milk to pupils in primary education (five-11-year-olds).

Dairy UK estimates that about 1.3m primary school children benefit from the scheme.

The EU subsidy is worth about 2.7p/189ml serving of whole milk. Since 2001 the government has added an additional 0.75p “top-up” at a cost of about 1.5m.

The extra subsidy – which was introduced to alleviate the impact of a reduction in the EU subsidy – has helped increase milk consumption in schools by over 3m litres from 2000/01 – 2003/04 with the UK climbing to the top the league table for subsidised school milk provision ahead of both France and Germany.

However, a report from economic consultants London Economics, to be considered by DEFRA and the departments for Health and Education, claims the “top-up” subsidy, paid to 12,000 schools in England, is inefficient and could be better directed.

A London Economics survey carried out for the report found that at schools participating in the scheme a child’s milk consumption rise, on average, by 0.1 pints a day.

However, the average milk consumption of pupils in schools not partaking in the scheme was already 0.76 pints a day.

Furthermore, financial inefficiencies in administering the scheme made subsidised milk more expensive than unsubsidised milk on sale in supermarkets – the government top-up alone creates 804,000 in extra costs, equivalent to 57% of the funds spent.

The total administrative costs for the EU subsidy and the top-up equate to 82% of the total subsidy, concluded London Economics.

Jim Begg, director general of Dairy UK, said: “This subsidy is highly valued by parents, teachers and schools as a method of delivering the nutritional benefits of milk to children.

“It is therefore paramount that all members of the dairy industry collaborate in a bid to establish a uniformed industry response showing solidarity on the issue.”

The summit will take place at Dairy UK’s London headquarters at 12.30pm.

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk