Vegan campaigners claim nurseries offering free cow's milk is 'indirectly discriminating'

Campaigners claim vegan children are being discriminated against by not being offered free plant-based milk [Photo: Getty]

Parents of vegan children and those allergic to dairy are challenging a scheme that gives out free cow’s milk to under fives.

Under the government initiative, which dates back to the 1940s, children in approved day care get a third of a pint of milk a day.

The idea behind the Nursery Milk Scheme is to give kids a nutritional boost, but most nurseries and schools only provide cow’s milk for free.

The Vegan Society therefore believes establishments that do not offer plant-based alternatives to cows’ milk are “indirectly discriminating against” vegan children.

Earlier this week, campaigners wrote a formal letter to the Department of Health calling for fortified vegan milks, such as oat and soya, to be introduced to the initiative.

They point out plant milks are fortified with calcium and UK’s Eatwell Guide recognises that fortified plant milks represent a valuable alternative to cows’ milk.

“Vegan children are unfairly treated,” spokesperson Mark Banahan said of the campaign.

“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.”

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The formal letter also points out that the number of vegans in Britain has quadrupled over the four years prior to 2018, with the number estimated to be around 600,000 and rising.

“In the UK, 17% of consumers report dairy avoidance in their household. This means that there are many vegan children who are currently excluded from the Nursery Milk Scheme because it fails to provide a plant-based alternative to milk,” the letter reads.

Testimonies from parents published on The Vegan Society website also explain that vegan parents and parents of children with allergies feel aggrieved that they have to pay for alternative milks for their children should they not wish to give them dairy.

"My son's school has milk delivered, and he was not given any milk alternative, all the other under 5s got free milk, and he did not,” one parent’s account reads.

“I had to send in plant milk for him to have at my own expense which is ridiculous when all the other kids got free cow's milk every day.”

"My daughter started school last September. She doesn't drink cow milk and no other alternative was offered so I had to buy oat milk every week and send it in with her,” another detailed.

“Obviously (due to having to remember at least 340 things each morning) I forgot some weeks... So she was given water. Which made her unhappy and made me feel guilty. It is absolutely ridiculous there isn't a dairy-free option."

The Vegan Society would like to see the scheme offering plant-based alternatives [Photo: Getty]

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Commenting on the legal challenge 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 has given the Department of Health 14 days to respond to its request, after which time it states it “will be considering legal options”.

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Recent research has revealed that veganism is on the rise. According to stats by the British Takeaway Campaign, orders of plant-based takeaways grew an astonishing 388% between 2016 and 2018 with 600,000 vegans in the UK alone.

An increasing number of food chains have introduced plant-based options to their menus in recent months.

After the phenomenal success of its vegan sausage roll, Greggs is planning to roll our more meat and dairy free versions of its top-selling products from steak bakes to doughnuts.

Meanwhile, KFC is trialling a range of ‘chicken’ nuggets and wings in order to appeal to the vegan market.