12 May 2000

School milk spend cut setbacks

EU COMMISSION plans to halve its spending on subsidised school milk received a further set back this week, after publication of a report by the influential European Economic and Social Committee.

Originally, the commission sought to scrap the scheme altogether, depriving over 5m schoolchildren throughout the EU of half a pint of subsidised milk each day.

In the wake of widespread opposition, it then suggested a 50:50 split, with member states picking up half the k96m (£56m) a year cost.

But this weeks report from the EESC – an advisory body comprising independent academics and business people – is critical of any co-financing. To depart from full EU funding would jeopardise school milk schemes in many member states, it says.

"The committee considers that the health, nutritional and social policy objectives of the school milk programme are of outstanding importance, even more so than the aim of boosting sales," it says. "Under no circumstances must children become a political football in a fight over the principle of co-financing."

The report follows an opinion from the European Parliament last week, calling for a 75:25 split between Brussels and national government expenditure on the scheme.

A final decision will be taken by farm ministers, in time for the start of the new school year on Sept 1. Earlier discussions at their March meeting revealed strong opposition to co-financing.