A new ruling that has been announced states that all the state schools are to be banned from serving whole milk to children from September onwards. This is part of their drive against obesity.
All state schools in England must offer only semi-skimmed or skimmed milk to pupils aged 3 to 18. The ruling also applies to the milk served during school lunches and at break times, and to cartons sold in vending machines.
This ban was approved by the Food Standards Agency and was included in the nutritional standards for schools announced by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, last week. Though the focus at that time was regarding the ban on junk foods at school, it has now been extended to whole milk as well. Whole milk contains about 3 to 3.5 per cent fat, semi-skimmed 1.5 to 1.8 per cent fat and skimmed less than 0.5 per cent.
It is expected that Mr Johnson will almost certainly faced with demands for a justification on the ban of whole milk during education questions in the Commons today. Dairy UK, which represents milk processors, has immediately questioned the decision and industry chiefs have asked Mr Johnson to think again.
The National Farmers Union felt that it was a matter for dairy processors and so did not affect farmers. But some of them like Derek Mead, a dairy farmer for 50 years, and the Somerset delegate on the NFU council, were outraged. He claimed to find this ban totally unacceptable that full milk is now being linked with junk food. He further explained that most people after the war grew up on almost a pint a day and children then seemed very healthy then and there was no obesity crisis. He questioned as to what the gain would be by banning whole milk in schools.
Jim Paice, Conservative farming spokesman, said stating that while he was all in favour of children having a healthy diet, he said that whole milk is 97 per cent fat-free. He felt that to remove this option for children would be an unnecessary further intervention by the state.
Roger Williams, the Liberal Democrats' rural affairs spokesman, also questioned the logic of the decision. He explained that full milk is a well-balanced food and children should have the opportunity to choose for themselves between full, semi-skimmed or skimmed. Stating that he regrets the ban on full milk in schools he said that the children should be encouraged to take responsibility for their choices.
Jim Begg, chief executive of Dairy UK, is of the belief that consumers concerned about healthy living are driving this move. He explained that many parents wanted to give their children semi-skimmed milk, as it was a top selling product. The statistics show that 3,711 million litres of semi-skimmed milk, which is consumed in a year, make up 58% of the market. Ten years ago sales were 3,269 million litres a year, making up 40% of the market.
This ban on whole milk in schools might have a problem it is expected. This is because, milk is subsidised in England to the tune of Ģ4.4 million a year, and the Government pays a top-up of Ģ1.1 million under the EU's school milk programme. The bulk of the subsidised school milk is whole milk, which is subsidised at 4.6p per 250ml carton, as compared to the 3.75p for semi-skimmed milk. Skimmed milk is not given any subsidy at all.
The ministers at the Departments for Education, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are now in deep discussion as to whether they would have to approach Brussels for permission to switch the whole-milk subsidy to skimmed milk.
But despite the Government's drive to reduce obesity, and a general awareness in companies to cut levels of salt, fat and sugar in food, a new study shows that the nation is getting even fatter. The figures show that in only a year the proportion of boys aged 11-15 who are obese or overweight has risen from 26.9% to 36.4%, while the number of overweight girls has gone up from 29.3% to 45.6%.