The dairy industry has welcomed the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommendation that milk is a key food for one to five-year-old children.
A daily intake of 550ml of cow’s milk, or equivalent amounts of yoghurt or cheese, is recommended in the report published this week by the Food Safety Authority (FSAI) in its dietary guidelines.
Key recommendations include:
Water and milk are the only drinks recommended for this age group.
Sugar-containing and acidic drinks should be limited and, if consumed at all, should be kept to mealtimes.
Parents and guardians are warned against using some beverages such as almond ‘milk’, coconut ‘milk’ and rice ‘milk’, as milk substitutes, as these are nutritionally inadequate.
If a plant-based beverage is required to replace cow’s milk, a soya ‘milk’, can be used, provided it is fortified with nutrients, particularly calcium.
ICMSA President Pat McCormack welcomed the FSAI findings,
He said that farmers and people in the wider dairy sector has had to endure a “whispering campaign” against dairy milk for some years, and have had to challenge “outright quackery” on alleged nutritional defects of milk on several occasions.
This FSAI report, said Mr McCormack, should become the standard reference for all those who pronounce on questions around childhood nutrition.
He also welcomed the report’s finding that lean red meat should be served to one to five-year-olds, ideally three times per week, for iron and other essential minerals, in addition to protein.
The FSAI is a statutory, independent and science-based body, under the aegis of the Minister for Health, dedicated to protecting public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene.
Unfortunately, the FSAI advice on milk for one to five-year-old children follows a decrease of more than 50% in pupil participation in the EU School Milk Scheme in Ireland.
The scheme provides a subsidised daily fresh portion of milk to school-going children at an affordable price in Montessori, primary, and secondary schools.
The School Milk Scheme is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), with the financial support of the EU.
The decline in uptake of the scheme happened over the eight years preceding the 2017/18 school year.
The approximate number of children participating in the School Milk Scheme fell from 51,160 in the 2013/14 school year to 38,536 in 2016/17. The number of schools participating in the School Milk Scheme fell from 1,061 in 2013/14 to 531 in 2017/18.
In 2017, Ireland submitted a six-year Statement of Strategy for the implementation of the School Scheme in Ireland, up to 2023.
Its key objective was to halt the decline in the participation in the School Milk Scheme.
The DAFM also commissioned research in April 2018 to identify the barriers to the uptake of the School Milk Scheme. The research identified a number of reasons, including an increase in water consumption, the milk price perceived as too expensive, parental contribution required for non-DEIS schools, and children not consuming milk at home.
The research also highlighted some issues regarding school facilities and equipment, including the frequency of delivery, particularly in rural areas, and the quality of milk, where deliveries are made outside the school grounds in the early hours of the morning.
DAFM actions to deliver an improved School Milk Scheme, put into action over the last two school years, include:
The National Dairy Council (NDC) was appointed to manage and run the School Milk Scheme at school level.
Enhanced accompanying measures/educational resources in the form of a new School Milk Week, with associated publicity campaigns and competitions to raise awareness.
Increasing the parental subsidy by 60%, to make the scheme more affordable.
Targeted recruitment campaign in advance of the commencement of the new school year by the NDC.
And trialling of a new method of delivery of milk to schools.
Schools or pre-schools interested in the scheme can contact the NDC, who will ask a local dairy for information about pricing and deliveries. The NDC supplies participating schools with free fridges to ensure that milk is chilled.
According to the NDC, as part of a balanced diet, three daily servings from the “milk, yogurt and cheese” food group are recommended for 5-8 year olds, and five daily servings are recommended for 9-18 year olds.