Real Insights - Milk in Action - The European School Milk Scheme
Whilst it has been traditional for younger children in schools to receive milk, it is now possible for older school students to also receive milk as a drink, through a subsidised plan, called the 'European School Milk Scheme'. Perhaps your school is already doing this? If not, it might be something you want to enquire further about. Many school children across the UK and Europe are now drinking milk at school as part of this scheme.
It has long been recognised that milk is an excellent calcium source for school age children. It also contains a range of vitamins important for healthy growth. Furthermore, exchanging milk as a drink for fizzy, sugary drinks can help promote an overall healthier diet.
Food Bites contacted the Dairy Team at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to find out more about how this scheme operates in the UK and the motivation behind the scheme. Many thanks there to Matt there for contributing some useful insights.
Through the European School Milk Scheme, the European Union (EU) provides subsidies to schools and other educational establishments so that they can provide their students with milk and other milk products. The School Milk Scheme encourages children to consume dairy products and maintain a balanced diet. As well as the obvious nutritional dimension, the scheme also provides an educational element, by supporting the development of good eating and nutritional habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. Such an initiative could ultimately help in the fight against the growing problem of obesity amongst children.
Just last year the scheme was reviewed and opened up to secondary school age children. A bigger range of dairy products was also made available so schools can chose from a list which ones they want to offer students (for example, flavoured milks and fermented milks are popular in some countries). In the UK it tends to be just regular whole or semi-skimmed milk and yogurt which is offered by schools but this reflects the most usual preferences.
Semi-skimmed milk constitutes 78% of all milk consumed nationally. Semi-skimmed milk has been introduced in response to DfES legislation, which recommends milk in schools be semi-skimmed. Why is this?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) healthy eating advice recommends reduced fat versions of milk products for children, such as semi-skimmed and skimmed milk. This recommendation does not apply to younger children, who should drink whole milk from one year of age until at least two years at which point semi-skimmed milk can be introduced if they are eating well. Skimmed or 1% milk should not be introduced to children until they are at least five years old because it is too low in calories. Also skimmed milk only contains very small amounts of vitamin A, which children need. For this reason in the UK children participating in the Nursery Milk Scheme drink whole milk, and primary and secondary school children participating in the School Milk Scheme drink semi-skimmed milk.
The financial support – or the subsidy, the EU gives to schools is the same for full-fat, medium-fat or low-fat products. The member states, or the individual countries of the EU, can choose the products they want to distribute to schools from the list of eligible products. The individual countries are also free to apply stricter standards if they wish to than those set out in the EU list. The subsidy as of September 2009, on whole and semi-skimmed milk, stood at just under 16.5p per litre from the EU with a further "top-up" subsidy of almost 4p from the UK government.
According to official figures from the EU for the 2006/2007 school year (for example look at the website http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/markets/milk/schoolmilk/index_en.htm) the equivalence of 305 000 tonnes of milk was distributed in schools in 22 Member States with EU expenditure of more than 50 million Euros.
The picture for England, Scotland and Wales shows that in the school year up to 2007, almost 47000 tonnes of milk and yogurt had aid paid on it in. This figure compares to the amount for Germany but is far greater tonnage than other countries in the EU.
Of the 27 member states of the EU only 3 do not participate in the milk scheme. And of the 24 countries participating in the scheme, 13 also provide a top-up from national funds (like the UK does). The UK is second in the amount of subsidised milk it provides to its children.
In England the School Milk Scheme is administered by the RPA, (Rural Payments Agency). There are currently 171 active claimants in Britain (claimants who have claimed recently), of which the vast majority are LEAs (local education authorities). In Wales all KS1 pupils receive free milk. Under the scheme, schools can claim up to 250ml portion per child per day (but most cartons in England are 189ml). Schools can also organize their own supplier of milk and can buy in bulk.
By opening up the scheme to older children, and increasing the flexibility on product choice it is hoped that even more schools will participate in the scheme in the future, giving more children access to high quality dairy products.
A school milk information campaign was launched last year by the EU called "Milk - drink it up" (http://drinkitup.europa.eu/) to raise awareness of the benefits of drinking milk and how the EU is supporting this promotion through funding. A dedicated school web site was launched at the same time giving information about the scheme from the EU to all school children in Europe. Just to better appreciate how wide the coverage of this scheme is in Europe, take a look at the selection of languages the site can be read in (23 European languages!). As part of this campaign, young people were invited to take part in a photo competition on the theme "Milk power" – maybe someone at your school took part in this?
DairyCo, the dairy levy board in the UK, have their own school milk project and their schools web site gives even more useful information about school milk: http://www.dairyco.net/school-milk.aspx.
The European Schools Milk Scheme is the only subsidised milk scheme currently in operation. You can tell which schools are participating in the scheme because they will be displaying a poster in the school entrance, as required by the scheme.