The Scottish government is set to provide vegan milk for kids alongside traditional dairy options. The new Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme will replace the UK’s Nursery Milk Scheme in Scotland.
The Nursery Milk scheme was first established in the 1940s to provide ⅓ pint (189ml) of milk per day to all children under 5 years of age attending childcare or schooling. The scheme reimburses eligible providers for the cost of the milk, but previously failed to include any dairy-free options.
From August this year, funding will be made available for Scottish nurseries, schools, and other providers to supply unsweetened, fortified soya milk for any children between 12 months and 5 years old who do not drink dairy for medical, religious, or ethical reasons.
‘This sets a great precedent’
The new program follows pressure from The Vegan Society to introduce free vegan milk for kids. The advocacy group launched a “Play Fair with Plant Milk” campaign back in 2019 to highlight the needs of children with dietary restrictions and allergies.
“We want to see fortified plant milk recognized as an alternative, wherever animal milk is currently supported or promoted,” The Vegan Society’s campaign reads. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) developed the new recommendations for the Scottish government with advice from Vegan Society.
In a release, the government wrote: “Our continued work with FSS has now identified that unsweetened calcium-enriched soya drinks for children over 12 months with other unsweetened calcium-enriched non-dairy alternative drinks can now be offered as part of the Scheme.”
“This sets a great precedent for other public health schemes to follow suit,” said Sabrina Ahmed, campaigns and policy officer at The Vegan Society.
Why is vegan milk for kids important?
In addition to the Nursery Milk Scheme, the current lack of dairy-free provision impacts the Healthy Start and Best Start Foods schemes — voucher-based initiatives for low-income families in England, Wales, and Scotland — along with the EU School Milk subsidy scheme, School Food Standards, and the UN’s School Milk Day.
Aside from the various ethical, health, environmental, and religious reasons for ditching dairy, lactose intolerance affects three out of every four people, and this typically develops in children at around 5 years old. Many medical professionals suggest that healthy kids don’t need dairy at all — and in fact, some might even be better off without it.
Dr. Sudhir Sethi, MBBS, MD, MRCP, FRCPCH, MPH, a consultant paediatrician based in Wales, told LIVEKINDLY that children eating a well-supplemented, nutritious diet should have no need for dairy milk.
“If a family decides to adopt a purely vegan diet , then it should be quite safe, as long as they take a few precautions and supplement the diet properly with vitamin B12 and vitamin D,” he continued. “This is quite easy to do.”
Ailsa McHardy, BSc (Hons), a registered paediatric dietician based in Scotland, echoed this. She told LIVEKINDLY that adequate variety, caloric volume, and fortification are important, particularly for nutrients such as protein, calcium, B12, iodine, and calcium.
“In general terms, fortified plant-based alternatives to dairy are nutritionally appropriate for all children from 2 years of age. For some, they will be perfectly suitable before this,” she explained. “One of the key benefits of offering dairy-free options is that it is a more inclusive way of providing young children with nourishing foods.”
‘This is quite a new way of life for many families’
In addition to potential allergies, McHardy noted that an increasing number of children and families she works with are swapping animal products for plant-based alternatives. By offering fortified, dairy-free milk to young people, food provision can be both more inclusive and more sustainable.
“Providing soya or other plant-based milk in a nursery setting is not going to cause any problems,” added Sethi. He explained that he now also frequently provides support to people about vegan nutrition and their young children. “This is quite a new way of life for many families.”
“No other species drinks the milk of another species. And no other species drinks milk beyond the early part of childhood,” said Sethi. “This is not our milk. And sometimes, people need to sit down and have a think, ‘well is there any power in that.’”
The updated Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme will launch nationwide on August 1, 2021.