UK dairy industry unites behind school milk subsidy
to discuss how it can defend school milk subsidies, after a report
commissioned by the government said they should be scrapped.
Industry association Dairy UK will host the meeting that will involve the country's biggest dairy companies as well as the Milk Development Council, National Farmers' Union and independent charity Milk for Schools.
The meeting was called after an independent review by London Economics last week said "the government should consider ending" the £1.5m annual sum it pays to help provide milk to 1.3m children across 12,000 schools.
"It is paramount that all members of the dairy industry collaborate in a bid to establish a uniformed industry response showing solidarity on the issue," said Jim Begg, director general of Dairy UK.
The government has indicated it will respond to the report sometime this summer.
Edmund Proffitt, Dairy UK processing manager, told DairyReporter.com the industry was "100 per cent in support" of the school milk subsidy.
Dairy UK said its major concern was getting nutritional benefits to children and that its vested interest was overrated. The subsidy scheme only accounts for 0.7 per cent of Britain's 14bn-litre annual milk production.
"It's not as though we are going to lose half our milk volume," Proffitt said, although adding that children who drank milk would hopefully continue their consumption into later life.
The UK government has paid a £1.5m school milk subsidy every year since 2001 as a top-up to annual sums handed out by the European Union.
The total subsidy is around £7.2m in England, with parents on average paying an additional 11.4p for a third of a pint.
The London Economics report questioned the need for the subsidy when supermarkets were already selling cheap milk. It also attacked the £7.2m subsidy for creating around £5m in administration costs.
One alternative it suggested was milk schemes targeted at more specific groups, such as nursery kids, teenage girls and children from poorer families.
Profitt said this would be difficult without increasing government spending beyond the current £1.5m subsidy payment. "With the best will in the world, you're not going to get many dairy products with that sort of money."
He said the report was "pretty weak" on how such alternatives would work.
Dairy UK has said it is happy to work with the government on how to improve the subsidy.
School milk has been a contentious issue in British politics for more than 30 years, and the issue may cause more arguments between government departments if it comes to a head again this year.
Three departments - Health, Education and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - are responsible for the top-up subsidy. Education secretary Ruth Kelly publicly supported the subsidy during last autumn's School Milk Week.
The dairy industry successfully lobbied to keep the EU-wide school milk subsidy in 1999, after the European Commission considered dumping the policy, which it sees purely as a way of off-loading excess milk.
As it is, the EU subsidy is set to be cut by 16 per cent up to July 2007 as part of Common Agricultural Policy reform.