The EU has confirmed through their School Milk Scheme initiative that suppliers of goods to schools participating in the scheme who were affected by Covid-19 closures are eligible to apply for reimbursement.
However, the NFU has learnt that despite this offer being open to all Member States under the scheme rules, Defra currently have no plans in place to enact this. Defra state that they have not been contacted by any who have been adversely affected by the sudden loss of market requesting reimbursement.
Whilst only a comparatively small amount of milk goes into the School Milk Scheme, the NFU is urging any suppliers, schools or farmer members who has been affected by this issue to contact Defra directly at ZGVmcmEuaGVscGxpbmVAZGVmcmEuZ292LnVr to raise their concerns, asking for them to consider enacting the reimbursement.
What is the School Milk Scheme?
The EU School Milk Scheme is part of a wider school fruit, vegetable and milk programme, which reaches around 20 million children across the EU annually. During the school year 2018/2019 around 159,000 schools participated and 178 million litres of milk was distributed to children.
The 2020/2021 school year budget for the EU school scheme has been announced at €105 million for the distribution of milk and dairy products to schoolchildren, with national funds able to top up the budget.
What happens now the UK has left the EU?
The 2020/2021 School Milk Scheme is guaranteed and will continue as usual. Whilst the UK has now formally left the EU and we move through the Implementation Period (IP), EU law continues to apply to the UK until 31 December 2020. Therefore, the UK may continue to participate in the EU scheme in 2020 and may be reimbursed for payments made to aid applicants at the latest by 15 October 2020.
Whilst the UK Government has committed to reviewing school milk and developing a domestic alternative to the EU School Milk Scheme, a decision has yet to have been made about whether the UK will in fact commit to a domestic scheme in 2021/2022.
The School and Nursery Milk Alliance, which the NFU is a member of, is looking to influence how a domestic scheme could work. Currently, 1.5m children receive school milk but the NFU and other SNMA members would be eager to see the scheme expand and cover a wider range of age groups, boosting uptake by schools and local authorities. We also believe a domestic school milk scheme could have an educational role in highlighting to schoolchildren the many important benefits the inclusion of dairy in the diet brings.
The NFU recognises the importance of school milk in not only providing nutritious dairy products for our children but also in helping to develop the consumption habits of the future and we will continue to lobby Defra on the introduction of a domestic, UK school milk scheme.