Britain's dairy industry wants the government to extend its school milk subsidy to secondary schools, after it emerged an extra €11m in funding might still be available from the European Union.
Officials at an industry-wide meeting hosted by trade association Dairy UK said the government should consider re-instating milk subsidies for school children aged between 11 and 15.
The move comes only days after the government announced it would continue pay an annual £1.5m to top-up EU funding for milk in 12,000 of Britain's primary schools.
Edmund Proffitt, who chaired the meeting, said the EU was giving Britain around £2m to subsidise milk in secondary schools, until the previous government gave them up a decade ago.
But, a European Commission spokesperson told www.DairyReporter.com that any member state could still get EU funding for a secondary school scheme.
He said aid would depend on the amount of milk involved in the scheme, but that theoretically the UK could get the same funding as it gets for its primary school scheme - around £7.5m (€11m) in 2004.
Dairy UK's Proffitt said the administration infrastructure was largely already in place and that re-introducing the subsidy would help the government fulfil its goals on improving child nutrition and school meals.
He denied financial gain was the industry's primary motive for supporting school milk subsidies, saying the current scheme only accounts for 0.7 per cent of Britain's 14bn-litre annual milk production.
The government already plans to make sure the only drinks available in secondary schools are milk, juice and water, as part of its healthy eating drive.
The prospect of extending the milk subsidy was, however, played down in Parliament by Jim Knight, under-secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs.
"All governments face public expenditure pressures, and must make choices, and we believe that there are other ways to develop milk provision in secondary schools," said Knight.
He applauded the achievements of the Milk Development Council, which has led the installation of around 1,000 'milk bars' in secondary schools across England and Wales.
Knight also said the government had a role to play in promoting milk consumption, and that skimmed or semi-skimmed milk was "recognised as a valuable component of a balanced diet and a healthier alternative to soft drinks".
Other MPs, however, spoke in favour of extending the subsidy scheme. Lindsay Hoyle, a Labour MP, said: "We are trying to get rid of the Coca-Cola machines and Pepsi machines - it does not matter which - and the bad diet must be removed.
"What better way of doing so…than to put in new machines that provide fresh milk? Unfortunately, people must pay for that, yet the European Commission is offering us money to expand the scheme."
A survey last year found that between 70 and 80 per cent of British children aged 11-18 years were consuming less than the recommended daily intake of calcium.
A new initiative to get more milk into school vending machines, backed by the Milk Development Council and Food Standards Agency, is set to begin in Wales this year.