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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK


Fight to save school milk

There are fears that children's health could suffer

A campaign has been launched to save the provision of school milk in Britain's primary schools.

There are fears that the European Commission is set to end its school milk subsidy, and that children's health may suffer.

The EC currently provides a multi-million pound milk subsidy for primary schools in all European countries.

But it is thought it is set to refuse to fund the subsidy from the middle of next year, meaning local authorities may be forced to stop supplies.

History of school milk

Under current arrangements, local authorities are allowed to offer free milk to the under-fives, and milk at a subsidy to under-11s.

The bill for the milk is passed on to parents, to whom the subsidy is worth about four pence off a daily third of a pint, costing between around 11 and 13 pence.

The subsidy, which cost the EU 106m euros last year, is discretionary. Many local authorities do not take it up, although some private agencies are now providing milk directly to schools wanting to make use of the subsidy.

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In Britain, school milk consumption is rising, and figures supplied by the charity Milk for Schools show that about a quarter of primary school children benefit from the subsidy.

However, the uptake in other European countries is lower, which is said to be what has prompted plans to abolish it.

The Dairy Industry Federation (DIF), which represents milk producers in the UK, has called on the EC to maintain its support.

Subsidised school milk has been available in British schools for 65 years, although the number of children entitled to receive it has fallen.

In 1968, the provision of free milk was abolished in secondary schools, and in 1971, Baroness Thatcher, who was Education Secretary in the early 1970s, ended free school milk for children over the age of seven.

By 1980, free milk for the five to seven-year-olds had also come to an end.

European countries managed to block a previous attempt by the EC to end its subsidy in the early 1990s.

Impact on health

DIF Director General Jim Begg said that a similar coalition was preparing to try to save school milk if the subsidy comes under threat again.

"Everybody believes in the virtues of milk and this scheme is highly regarded," he said.

"Milk provides children with a significant proportion of their daily nutritional requirements, particularly calcium, which is essential for the development of healthy bones.

Stephanie Spiers: "One child in every three is going to school without breakfast"
"Inadequate skeletal development in childhood can lead to osteoporosis in later life which is already a major drain on the health service."

Milk for Schools said European leaders must consider the welfare of the children of the whole of Europe.

Deprived children

Chair of Trustees Stephanie Spiers said: "This dairy industry-led campaign, which unites parents and farmers with dairy processors, is of vital importance to our school children.

"It is imperative that the European Agriculture Commission does not abandon direct subsidy grant aid for school milk.

"One child in three is going to school in the morning without breakfast, probably not even a drink.

"There are 2.8 million deprived children in the UK living on the breadline.

"This alone means we should see milk back in schools."

She said that if the subsidy was withdrawn, it could also affect the provision of free milk for the under-fives.

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