15 June 1999
School milk subsidy stays – for now
By FWi staff
THE European subsidy on school milk will remain, at least for the time being, following an agreement reached by agriculture ministers today in Luxembourg.
Todays meeting, which ended earlier than expected at about 12.15am BST, was the last farm council before Germany hands over the EU presidency to Finland.
Some European member states wanted an end to the school milk scheme, claiming it is too much of a drain on European Union (EU) resources.
But UK agriculture minister Nick Brown saw his wish granted that subsidy payments would continue to help encourage children to drink milk.
European agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler said Brussels was interested in ensuring future generations liked milk and dairy products.
“That is very much in the interests of dairy companies and consumers,” he said, referring to milks nutritional benefits.
But Herr Fischler acknowledged it was likely that the amount of resources used to promote milk through the subsidy system might soon have to be reduced.
“Some states are complaining that it takes too much money,” he told reporters.
The reprieve for the school milk subsidy system came as the National Farmers Union (NFU) prepared to give evidence to MPs on milk marketing.
An NFU delegation was due to tell the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture that farmers are vital to the UK milk processing industry.
The NFU believes dairy producers have a key role to play if the UK is to expand its dairy processing capacity to boost the demand for raw milk.
Earlier, NFU president Ben Gill called on the government to speed up the publication of the Competition Commission report into the UK milk supply chain.
The release of the report was delayed again last week, reportedly because of the effect on the governments share of the vote in the European elections.
But Mr Gill said such excuses were a “smokescreen” and warned that farmers livelihoods would be damaged the longer the reports findings remained unknown.
The report is expected to encourage farmers to become more involved in milk processing but at the expense of the break-up of Milk Marque.
Milk Marque is the biggest farmer-owned cooperative in the country with more than a 50% share in the market supplying dairy companies with raw milk.