Con-Dem’s got no bottle / Axe milk!

David “the pinch” Willetts was right to favour axing free milk for under-fives. It costs us £60m and is an anachronistic way of trying to get calcium into badly-tended kids, with its own undesirable health side effects. And as a universal benefit to rich and poor alike at a time of structural deficit, there’s no case for keeping it.

Except PR. Cameron decided to squander £60m on continuing this wasteful scheme because his reputation is too fragile to withstand being compared to Margaret Thatcher. I’m not confident the man will last.

Health spending is axed, milk is kept – makes no sense. Anne Milton’s ‘Healthy Start’ vouchers were a far better idea.

I am vegan, so it wouldn’t do for me to stop without making the following uncontroversial statements of fact so few people want to know about:

  • Milk is for calves and its benefits for humans are overstated; what benefits there are are not particular to milk.
  • Milk is a cruel food; the cows forced into supplying this cheapo milk are unlikely to see much grass, likely to be permanently on antibiotics, forced to calf each year and then have their babies taken away from them so we can have it all. And when they stop being able to calve, it’s curtains. An intelligent, feeling, social creature, used up and thrown away, needlessly.
  • Milk is an environmentally degrading food – 990 litres of water for each litre of milk. The greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation for their food (the largest portion of the world’s soy crop); transporting the food round the world; cold storage for the milk; moving the milk (whose main constituent is water) from dairy farm to fridge; the packaging.

I think we should find alternatives to milk for all these reasons. My hunch is that the children will thank us later.

Bonus links for those curious about the state of play (which seems to be a depressing zero sum game):

  • Food Climate Research Network at the University of Surrey – seriously engaging with climate change, don’t care about animal welfare.
  • Food Ethics Council – good on human welfare, but search for ‘sentience’ and you get a single hit
  • Stephen Walsh’s book Plant-Based Nutrition and Health – information on vegan nourishment.
  • The Vegan Society – good on cruelty, but not yet credible as a decision-making resource. It’s not acceptable to have undated web pages giving nutrition advice.
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11 thoughts on “Con-Dem’s got no bottle / Axe milk!

  1. Well, we’ll have to disagree, many inner city kids don’t have a full breakfast and find the milk helpful.

    It is a small cost (in terms of Govt. spending) to provide some benefit to poor kids.

    • Late to this – Mod. Basically, it’s not milk that poor kids needs. Milk is a conveniently ingested package for some nutrients. It’s a way of subsidising dairy farmers to keep cows. But the price is too high, as I attempted to argue above. We need to find cruelty-free, less wasteful ways to nourish kids. It’s nourishment that poor kids need, not milk. And if milk, why aren’t we campaigning for availability of human milk?

  2. I am sure it is a way of subsidising farmers, but there are benefits to the children, even if we don’t want to admit it, and I’m very reluctant to impose my dietary habits on others.

    But there’s a much bigger political picture which we shouldn’t forget, the Tories wish to divorce the notion that educational achievement has a wider context.

    They want to remove the State from assisting children and the poor, and box up schools as if education can be separated from its adjacent environment , which obviously it can’t.

    We shouldn’t forget that the Tories are not doing this from any regard for the cows, an interesting animal welfare or even what’s best for the children, rather they are doing it mostly for ideological reasons.

    • “I’m very reluctant to impose my dietary habits on others.”

      Just to assert, this is not a dietary habit I’m imposing – it’s part of an entirely conscious politics against suffering I want to argue for.

      I agree with your bigger picture, though I think the Conservative policy maker did, in acknowledgement of the link between early years diet and achievement, propose replacing the milk with Healthy Start vouchers – but the PR was too bad.

      Pity the cows. Have you ever seen a cow and calf separated? It’s heart-wrenching.

  3. Vouchers? I can’t see how kids will drink the vouchers during the day.

    Divorcing the wider social context and the quality of the learning is the Tories’ point

    They want to break it and going along with this acquiesces to their agenda.

    It won’t save any cows or reduce milk intake but working-class kids will lose out on nourishment, have less concentration and achieve less at school.

    This is all part of the Tories’ class agenda and we shouldn’t be oblivious to it, whatever our own dietary choices.

    • Mod, first of all, thanks for entering into this conversation. Most of my regular readers (tend to be on the left, via Bob) ignore any part of my blog relating to animals. So, thanks for taking notice.

      To take your points one by one. Health. School meals have been notoriously unhealthy, nourishing only in terms of energy (and by implication have negatively affected concentration). The milk is part of this unhealth – milk contains a lot of saturated fat, and if there’s one thing that working class kids aren’t short of it’s energy from fat (yes you can skim it, but where do you think that skimmed fat ends up?). We do not need this milk on health grounds. It is for babies – baby cows. Grim of us to take it.

      Schools as a vehicle of social justice dietary agenda. Yes, I agree with this, under current circumstances of inequality and poverty. But it doesn’t have to be through the cruel practices milk requires.

      Milk as the only choice. As an aside, one of my earliest memories is being force-fed milk at playgroup. I never drank milk (though I had it in other forms) and coerced nourishment makes no sense to me at all. Nor does wasted milk. You’re probably right about the voucher scheme. Maybe it just becomes another currency. But don’t you think then that attention to school meals, along Jamie Oliver lines but without the cruelty, is what working class kids need?

      Your points about the Conservatives are true, but I dispute that supporting an end to free milk in schools supports an individualistic agenda.

  4. Pingback: Beer, Fags, Burgers, Milk and CO2 | GreenFeed (beta2)

  5. “Health. School meals have been notoriously unhealthy, nourishing only in terms of energy (and by implication have negatively affected concentration). “

    I would agree, but as it can be often a choice between them and *nothing*, then I’d prefer the meals… hungry kids don’t learn much…

    Milk…if there’s an alternative, fine by me, but I want schools and a wider society to appreciate that not all kids come from middle class background and ANY form of drink, soya, milk will help kids… in particular if they come from poor backgrounds….

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