Welsh farmers urge their children to boycott 'over-priced' school milk

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The Independent Online

When Brian Williams, a Welsh dairy farmer, heard his daughters' school planned to reintroduce milk as an alternative to fizzy drinks at break-time, he was delighted. Then he found the children were paying nearly six times more for their so-called subsidised milk than he was paid for it.

While farmers in Pembrokeshire are selling milk for about 8p a pint, their children pay 15p for one-third of a pint, despite EU subsidies.

Mr Williams is one of several farmers urging their children to boycott the scheme in protest at the price difference. He has two daughters at Maenclochog Primary School, one of 10 schools in the scheme. He said: "If this milk is meant to be subsidised, I dread to think what it would cost if it wasn't. I'd be happy to give milk to the school to promote it. But, however they get it, there's no way children should be paying 15p for a third of a pint. When I was at school we were given milk and that's how it should be today."

The scheme, funded by the Welsh Development Agency, aims to make milk as popular as the fizzy drinks that dominate the market. The milk is served in jazzy disposable cups with straws from brightly coloured milk bars, which the pupils are encouraged to run.

Lynne Perry, a health promotion officer with Dyfed Powys Health Authority, said: "The nutritional benefits of milk are well known. We want to ... try to give it a trendier image." Although the project has had a degree of success, it has also brought a stark reminder of the milk crisis to farmers. Prices are at their lowest in real terms since records began in 1970.

Margaret Hicks, one of the scheme's co-ordinators, said the price in schools was largely a result of delivery and packaging costs. "This is also about marketing milk to children and producing safe refrigerated milk. The price is a problem we are trying to tackle."

Free school milk was a legal entitlement until the Seventies, when Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, scrapped the scheme, earning the tag "Thatcher the milk snatcher".

Since then, EU subsidies have gone some way to promoting milk in schools but the last Tory administration chose not to take up many of them.

Stephanie Spiers, from the charity Milk for Schools, is angry the Government has not honoured its pledge to bring back the old subsidies. Britain still refuses to accept grants worth millions of pounds for cheese and secondary school milk.. Ms Spiers said: "Only 25 per cent of the primary school sector is taking up the subsidy, which makes up 1 per cent of national milk sales. The Government could double the domestic milk market by opening up the market for school milk and taking on the other EU subsidies. This would also help avert the milk crisis and keep the price ofmilk up.

"New Labour made no promises to reintroduce free milk ... But we are very angry they have not kept their word on the subsidies, and we will continue to fight for those."