The Vegan Society is urging schools and nurseries to include fortified plant milk in nutritional public health initiatives for children this United Nations World School Milk Day (25 September).
We have published a legal opinion challenging the Department of Health to include fortified plant milk in its Nursery Milk Scheme after parents have criticised it for excluding vegan children.
Our legal expert sent a formal letter to the government in which we emphasised that nutritional public health initiatives for children must include fortified plant milk to cater for the growing number of vegan children.
Parents have also slammed the Nursery Milk Scheme, which was established in the 1940s and offers free cow’s milk to children under 5 in nurseries, for having to pay for their child’s vegan milk.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, The Vegan Society’s legal advisor, said: “Law regulating the provision of milk for young children is in urgent need of reform to recognise current scientific evidence on nutrition and a growing consumer trend away from dairy products.
“Public authorities are under a general duty under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid discrimination; by limiting the Nursery Milk Scheme only to cow’s milk, the Department of Health are failing in that duty.
“We are urging the government to include fortified plant milk in its milk schemes nationwide, to ensure vegan children are catered for with a nutritionally adequate and delicious milk alternative.”
The Vegan Society wants fortified plant milk to be recognised on par with cow’s milk, wherever animal milk is currently supported or promoted in schools, as it is an important source of calcium and other nutrients.
Dozens of parents have contacted us to complain about the lack of plant milk provision in schools, affecting vegan children as well as those who are allergic to dairy or object to it on religious, ethical and environmental grounds.
Parents are forced to organise and pay for their own plant milk delivery, which they say is “ridiculous when all the other kids get free cow's milk every day”.
Our new Play Fair with Plant Milk campaign challenges the decade-long promotion of cow’s milk and calls for nurseries and schools to be more inclusive of children’s dietary requirements and ethical convictions.
Mark Banahan, Campaigns Manager at The Vegan Society, said: “Vegan children are unfairly treated as they do not benefit from the current school health initiatives, which are designed to increase calcium intake for growing children.
“They often miss out or have to rely on parents to provide their own plant milk, something that is not always possible for low-income families and causes a great deal of inconvenience to families who should be entitled to free milk alternatives.
“It’s time the government Play Fair with Plant Milk and support it in nutritional public health initiatives for children.”
Research shows that 1 in 3 people regularly buy plant milks and 17% of consumers report dairy avoidance in their household.
The government’s Eatwell Guide officially recognises fortified plant milk as a suitable and nutritious alternative to animal milk, specifically mentioning soya milk, which has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk in terms of calcium and protein.
International Rights Network member and solicitor Sarah Dent said: "I fully support The Vegan Society’s campaign to request the Department of Health to amend the scheme to ensure plant based milk is provided for vegan children or indeed, any child who excludes dairy from their diet."
Another Network member Dina Aherne said: "There are over 600,000 vegans in Britain and many of these people are raising their children vegan. Many of these children are at approved day care facilities and are not being catered for in line with their protected beliefs which is to provide them with a plant based alternative to cow’s milk."
Edie Bowles, solicitor at Advocates for Animals, said: “To avoid the risk of unlawful discrimination against ethical vegans, who hold a cogent and serious belief system, the government should extend its nursery milk scheme to include plant milk.”
The environmental benefits of plant milks are widely known, with even the most environmentally damaging type (almond) being better for the planet than dairy milk:
The production of dairy is wasteful due to the amount of feed and water cows consume, the land they take up, as well as the waste they produce, meaning for every 100 calories we feed to them we only receive 40 calories back in the form of their milk.