In a recent announcement, the Scottish government has agreed to include plant-based milk alternatives in government-funded nurseries and early learning milk schemes, following a campaign led by The Vegan Society called Play Fair with Plant Milk.
The campaign was started to address the lack of plant-based milk options in several public health initiatives which resulted in discrimination against vegan children.
Below are some examples of the schemes/initiatives affected –
- Healthy Start Scheme (Best Start Foods Scheme in Scotland)
- EU School Milk subsidy scheme
- School Food Standards (mandatory daily milk section)
- UN School Milk Day (25 September)
- Nursery Milk Scheme
In the Nursery Milk Scheme, which is designed to increase calcium intake for growing kids, eligible childcare providers are reimbursed the cost of providing milk to children under 5 years of age and those who attend approved daycare facilities, are entitled to receive 1/3 of a pint of cow’s milk eevry day, free of cost.
Research shows that 1 in 3 people regularly buy plant-based milks, including soya, oat, coconut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, hemp, rice, and flax milks.
However, the scheme did not include fortified plant milks and a number of vegan parents raised concerns about the discrimination their children faced as there were no measures in place to give them plant milk, leading them to miss out on the vitamins and minerals available in said milks. Children also had to rely on their parents for the plant milk intake and for those belonging to low-income families, this wasn’t really an option.
Parents expressed concerns with one saying: “My daughter has a milk allergy and I have to provide her with a carton of oat milk to have while the others have cow’s milk. Would be great If something was available to her, I’m quite happy buying it but I feel for very low-income families that might be harder.”
Another parent who’s child has a dairy intolerance said: “We get healthy start vouchers and my 2 year-old son has a dairy intolerance so I felt discriminated against. As milk is expensive so it would have been really helpful to be able to use the vouchers for that.”
Campaigns and Policy Officer at the Vegan Society Sabrina Ahmed said that it was of utmost importance to put measures in place to include the needs of vegan children: “We are often contacted by parents of young children who describe the indirect discrimination they have faced due to the existing U.K. Nursery Milk Scheme. Many children have lost out on this free health benefit because of their ethical beliefs, which is unfair.”
We’re delighted to see that the Scottish Government has now recognised this negative impact and that the new Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme is inclusive of those who cannot consume animal milk because of medical, religious or other beliefs. This sets a great precedent for other public health schemes to follow suitSabrina Ahmed, Campaigns and Policy Officer at The Vegan Society
The Vegan Society and the Scottish Government held discussions and after approval from the Food Standards Scotland, there will be now be funding for daycare providers to provide unsweetened calcium-enriched soya drinks, for children over 12 months who can’t consume cow’s milk either due to medical, ethical or religious reasons.
Ahmed added: “We’re delighted to see that the Scottish Government has now recognised this negative impact and that the new Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme is inclusive of those who cannot consume animal milk because of medical, religious or other beliefs. This sets a great precedent for other public health schemes to follow suit.”
The plant milk alternatives will be available under the new Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme and will launch across all local authorities on the 1st August 2021.
Dietitian at The Vegan Society, Heather Russell, said: “This scheme recognises the nutritional need for suitable alternatives to milk, which will help to ensure that vegan children receive the best care, including balanced food.”
In December last year, Scotland also became the first nation in the world to offer free period products to all, following a four-year grassroots campaign led by Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon. This new law will place a legal obligation on all local authorities in the country to provide free and universal access to period products.
Aside from this, nations around the world are recognizing the growing number of vegan children and are working towards including their needs, for instance, recently, Australia announced that it will soon open its first-ever vegan preschool, Sustainable Play, to encourage eco-practices among children such as following plant-based diets, growing their own vegetable patches to making use of local produce, all a part of their educational syllabus.
In Brighton, England, parents appealed to the local council to make vegan lunches available in all schools along with charities calling on the U.K. government to remove meat from school menus entirely.
Lead image courtesy of Ksenia Chernaya/Pexels.