28 May 1999

Scots milk men fear ending of school subsidy

By Allan Wright

THERE is a real threat that the EU school milk subsidy will be deemed not to be cost-effective and will be withdrawn, according to John Duncan, chairman of Scottish Milk, the farmers co-operative which handles most of the milk produced in Scotland.

"We are seeking an early meeting with the new Scottish health minister Susan Deacon to seek her support in the fight to retain the subsidy," Mr Duncan said this week.

School subsidy

A recent report, prepared by London Universitys Wye College, stated that the school milk subsidy was not an effective way of promoting milk.

The subsidy, worth 20p/litre on whole milk and 12.5p/litre on semi-skimmed milk, was withdrawn from secondary schools by the Conservative government. But the support remained for primary schools and was particularly popular in Scotland where up to 8m litres a year were sold through the scheme at about 70ppl.

Scottish Milks schools executive Dennis Gray said sales had dropped by more than 60% when the subsidy was withdrawn in secondary schools three years ago.

Scottish Milks predecessor, the Scottish Milk Marketing Board, began promoting milk in schools 16 years ago. Milk bars were established in many schools and the 100 millionth litre was sold through those outlets this week.

Apart from the threat to the subsidy, milk sales in school face increasing pressure from fizzy drinks. Mr Gray said that Glasgow City Council had established what were called "fuel zones" which were replicas of fast food outlets and had been sponsored at £28,000 a time by either Coca-Cola or Barrs, the makers of Irn Bru.

"They do not regard milk as a competitor and allow it to be sold alongside in the food outlets. But the whole advertising message is for carbonated drinks. These places are a shrine to Coca-Cola or Irn Bru and the aim is to get children hooked on those drinks for life," said Mr Gray.

Extra employment

"The project has been a great success in getting children back to school meals, and it has created extra employment for dinner ladies, but I shudder to think was they are doing to the health of our children," he added.

Mr Duncan said that if the milk subsidy was withdrawn it would give the manufacturers of carbonated drinks, with their huge advertising budgets, carte blanche in the schools market.