The EU has extended the Continent-wide School Milk Scheme to include a wider range of dairy products and a wider age group.

Cheese and yoghurt will now be part of the scheme, as will buttermilk and other fermented milk products. Previously only milk was included in the scheme, which is being extended to secondary schools for the first time in an effort to tackle obesity among older children.

In a further change, dairy items must be presented as standalone products and not incorporated into other meal items such as custard. This will allow children to clearly identify dairy products, the EC claims.
Importantly, fat content is not a factor under the new arrangements, with high-fat products receiving the same aid as low-fat.

And in a move that could put the EC on a collision course with the FSA, the health and nutritional benefits of cheese and other dairy products will be explained to children. “We are trying to say that milk and cheese are basic foodstuffs that are a lot better for you than eating chocolate bars and Coke,” said a spokeswoman.
During the 2006/07 school year, the EC provided €50m to member states to fund school milk schemes, with €8.43m going to the UK, but the overall budget is expected to be increased to €65m in the coming year. The funding covers part of the cost of products, with member states meeting the remainder.

The announcement was welcomed by Dairy UK, which said it would lobby Defra to extend the UK scheme to include cheese. 

“We think this is a great initiative, which will bring the taste and nutrition of dairy products to more children,” said processing manager Edmund Proffitt. “The calcium, vitamins and minerals in dairy are vital for maintaining healthy bones, and this is particularly important for kids.”

Defra is expected to launch a consultation in the autumn on whether to broaden the scheme.