Green Party children’s spokeswoman, Holly Walker, said: “Milk in schools is a response to poverty and hunger. Ending poverty is the responsibility of the government, not Fonterra."
Adding that Fonterra had become the “ambulance at the bottom of the government’s poverty cliff”, Walker added: “270,000 Kiwi [New Zealand] children live in poverty. Those kids need the basics like milk, but their parents need good jobs and better government support so they can supply them.”
While Walker said the Green Party welcomed Fonterra’s scheme, she added: “We should not be relying on profit-driven companies to provide children’s food basics.
Will Fonterra stay the course?
Walker said: “What happens when milk supply decreases, or Fonterra profits dip? This scheme is not a sustainable way to address kids’ health and well-being.”
Fonterra’s ‘Milk for Schools’ programme forms part of its larger ‘Milk for Kiwis’ plan, which is being driven by Fonterra’s new CEO (since last July) Theo Spierings.
The co-operative will pilot the scheme across 110 Northland (the northernmost state of the North Island) primary schools with 14,000 children aged 5-13 from this year, with a view to rolling it out across the country in 2013.
Speaking in mid-December, Spierings said: “We want all New Zealand primary school children to have access to dairy nutrition every school day.”
NZ dietary guidelines
New Zealand Dietary Guidelines recommend that school children consume at least two to three servings of milk or dairy per day.
“We don’t want kids having to drink warm milk in summer like the old days, so we will look at installing refrigerators in schools, and also explore options for recycling the milk packaging,” Spierings added.
But altruistic motives aside, Fonterra is aware that milk consumption in New Zealand is currently falling at around 1-2 per cent per year, a situation it is striving to address.
Quizzed as to whether - from a cynical standpoint - Fonterra's move into schools might be seen as a means of redressing the milk slump, by targeting the next generation of consumers at an early age, company spokesman Liam Baldwin told DairyReporter.com: "It’s always been about making milk more accessible to New Zealanders."
Pressed further on the Green Party's suggestion that milk supplies to schools could suffer as a result of declines in milk supply or company profits, he added: "Fonterra won’t be drawn on any comments made by any political party."
Spierings also said that a major hike in world dairy prices – which roughly doubled in the 18 months to December – had meant higher local milk prices.
“We are exploring a range of options to turn around the consumption decline by making milk more consistently affordable, and will report back in the first quarter of next year,” he said.