School milk under threat

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Commission is threatening to take away a pounds 69m milk money subsidy for British children.

Campaigners will today launch a Europe-wide attempt to raise awareness of the threat, which they say could harm the health of children.

School milk is currently enjoyed by about 1.4 million of the nation's 7.5 million pupils. But local authorities may be forced to halt supplies if the Commission refuses to fund the subsidy from the middle of next year, as feared.

The Dairy Industry Federation, which represents milk producers in Britain, has called on the Commission to maintain its support although at present there is still no evidence of the subsidy being contained in Euro-budget plans.

It had been thought that a declaration by European agriculture ministers last month in support of the subsidy had indicated that school milk was safe. But the federation said the wording of the declaration was so vague that it still left the way open for the Commission to review the scheme itself before a September deadline.

The subsidy works out at about 21.6p a litre being paid to local councils taking part in the scheme.

European countries managed to block a previous attempt by the Commission to end the subsidy in the early 1990s. In Britain, the idea of a free third of a pint for every schoolchild at morning break-time disappeared in 1968 when it was abolished in secondary schools. Margaret Thatcher, who was secretary of state for education in the early 70s,ended school milk for children over the age of seven in 1971.

Jim Begg, director-general of the federation, said: "Milk provides children with a significant proportion of their daily nutritional requirements." Stephanie Spiers, who chairs the Milk for Schools charity, also urged European leaders to consider the "vital" health benefits of providing children with milk.