The European Parliament this month voted against including plant-based milk in EU schools under its’ huge school scheme – a programme that provides dairy milk, fruit and vegetables to more than 20 million children across the continent.
ProVeg International was disappointed by the vote. Many children in the EU cannot – or do not want to – drink cow’s milk for medical, ethical, taste, or environmental reasons.
The environmental reasons are abundantly clear: 70% of the EU’s agricultural emissions are attributed to livestock farming (according to the European Court of Auditors in 2021), so widening the scope to include plant-based milk alternatives will put a marked dent in that figure.
Unfortunately, MEPs were too short-sighted to see this. But fortunately, their vote is only advisory, as the European Commission will decide independently on the matter at the end of the year.
What a squandered opportunity it was for a parliament that speaks so loudly about the importance of sustainability to throw away a chance to help introduce more climate-friendly drinks into Europe’s school canteens.
And what about the UK? Can we expect more from a nation that has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the European Parliament and its decisions?
Yes, we can. In fact, the Scottish Government has already opted to include plant-milks under the new Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack scheme, which was rolled out in August 2021, offering unsweetened, calcium-enriched soya milk to children who do not consume cow’s milk because of medical, ethical or religious reasons.
In England and Wales, the school milk subsidy scheme does not yet include an option to provide non-dairy milks as an alternative to dairy but things are shifting at school level. We should know, because ProVeg UK is at the forefront of encouraging more plant-based meals in schools.
Through our flagship programme, School Plates, we work with local authorities and school caterers to get plant-based meals served in schools – and nearly 10 million school meals have gone meat-free or plant-based since the launch of the programme.
Including fortified unsweetened plant-based milk alternatives is essential in terms of inclusion, availability and affordability, as well as sustainability. Offering plant-based milk alternatives such as soya and pea drinks constitute an equally nutritious counterpart to dairy products and it is crucial for kids’ inclusion at schools.
We strongly believe the UK has a chance here to soar ahead of the EU, demonstrate its independence from the EU, and make many children feel more at ease at lunchtime.
Kirsty Leese is campaigns and communications manager at ProVeg UK