Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) This Wednesday is World School Milk Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness of free and subsidized school milk programs, which exist in over 34 countries across the world. Unsurprisingly, none of these schemes include alternatives to dairy milk.
This was quite understandable, launched 22 years ago, the day is traditionally associated with dairy milk but with 68% of the global population being lactose intolerant, and many people suffering from cow’s milk allergy, it’s no surprise that more and more countries are promoting plant-based milk as an alternative to dairy.
“Plant-based milk offers those with intolerance or dairy milk allergies a much greater choice at school mealtimes and there is a growing array of nutritious plant-based milk to choose from. These milk also offer greater choice to young people who want animal-friendly drinks as well,” Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of food awareness organization, ProVeg International, said.
Plant-based milk can also be appealing to young people because of its smaller impact on the environment compared to its dairy counterparts.
“Young people are eager to make a difference as individuals to the challenges we face with climate change. They are becoming more aware that what we eat and drink impacts the environment,” de Boo said. “Adopting a more plant-based diet is one of the quickest and most effective ways of doing that,” she added.
The European Commission is in the process of considering whether to include plant-based kinds of milk in the EU School Scheme, which currently only subsidizes cow’s milk. A petition by ProVeg International in support of calcium-fortified plant-based milk inclusion in the scheme has already garnered 70,000 signatures from across Europe.
Within the plant-based sector, companies such as Oatly have been highlighting the value of adding plant-based milk to the EU scheme through the company’s “Normalize it” campaign which ran throughout the Spring and Summer of 2022.
“There is so much support out there for including plant-based milk in the EU scheme and we are confident they will be included in the scheme by 2024,” de Boo said. “They are environmentally friendly, animal friendly and they are nutritious as well.”
Soya milk, for example, naturally contains the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, with about 3 g per 100 ml. Due to the fact that many manufacturers fortify soya milk with calcium and other vitamins, such as B12, B2, D, and A, nutrition experts state that it can be used as a nutritionally adequate alternative to cow’s milk.1
“Providing fortified plant-based drinks in schools is hugely important given the need to transition to a plant-based food system. Plant-based drinks are not only nutritious but are more sustainable for the environment and should be encouraged,” Dr Shireen Kassam, Founder of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, said.
Chantal Tomlinson, a dietitian at The Vegan Society, said calcium-fortified plant alternatives to milk play a significant role in the diets of vegan children and those who cannot have dairy milk for health and religious reasons.
“Alternatives can be a rich source of protein and make a significant contribution towards meeting calcium requirements. Many plant-based kinds of milk are now being fortified with iodine, which is especially important for children’s development,” Tomlinson said.
The Vegan Society’s “Play Fair with Plant Milk” campaign calls for fortified plant-based milk to be recognized as an alternative wherever animal milk is currently supported or promoted.
“This is essential to ensure children who cannot have animal milk are not being excluded and can receive a similar nutritional benefit to their classmates,” she added.