4 June 1999

Cheap school milk at risk

CHEAP school milk could soon be a thing of the past, if EU Commission plans to end its subsidised scheme are approved.

Currently about 20,000 UK primary schools and 1m children benefit from the scheme, which pays 10p-12p a pint to local authorities who provide school milk. Last year that was worth about £5.5m paid out on some 50m litres.

But for the EU as a whole, the cost is put at £72m and, in an attempt to save money, this is due to be halved in October and dropped altogether next year. The commission says it is no longer justified due to limited uptake.

That is questioned by the School Milk Research Project – an organisation set up last year by the Milk Development Council and the Womens Food and Farming Union to encourage schools to make use of the scheme.

Pilot projects in Cornwall, Staffs and Leicester have resulted in 3000 new milk drinkers, claims the organisations Mary-Ann DeFimone, and further expansion is planned. "It would be a sad loss if the scheme was to go," she said. "Many children go to school without breakfast. The milk they get at break time is often the first stuff they get in their tummies since the night before."

NFU president Ben Gill has taken the matter up with EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler. "Milk is an invaluable source of nutrition for those who need it most – growing children," he said in a letter. "Its importance as a provider of calcium cannot be over-estimated."

To lose the scheme now would also be a blow to dairy farmers. "Dairy farmers are currently undergoing the most severe economic downturn that many can remember. To end the scheme now can only exacerbate this critical situation," wrote Mr Gill.