I am not easily shocked but, truth be told, the recent abstention by the UK government in the vote to bolster the current EU milk scheme fairly took the wind out of my sails.
On the table in Brussels just over a week ago was a proposal to combine the existing measures which promote the consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables in schools. Also up for grabs was an enhanced budget, constituting an almost threefold increase in the funding available to encourage healthy eating by children. It all seems, like a win:win scenario to me.
Specifically, where milk is concerned, the amount of money available across the EU would be €100m per annum: this represents a 25% increase on the €80m annual subvention that has been available up to this point for such activity.
My understanding is that the EU fully funds measures to improve healthy eating in schools. But even if this was not the case, and individual member states are expected to make a national contribution to measures of this nature, the fact that the UK sat on its hands and abstained in the vote is nothing short of scandalous.
The milk sector has been calling out for ages to have measures introduced which will encourage the greater use of dairy products in our schools, hospitals, prisons and other institutions. And, by the way, the same principle holds for the other agri food sectors.
So here was a gilt edged opportunity - one would have thought - for DEFRA to back a genuine measure of this nature, without having to allocate £millions of UK tax payers’ money in order to make it work.
And, still, the UK couldn’t give the proposal its full backing: thank goodness the majority of other member states said ‘Yes’.
This is another example of DEFRA’s seemingly uncaring attitude towards farmers.
Over the past number of years, the UK has had numerous opportunities to bolster the sustainability of farming businesses by working more closely with Brussels, but has refused to do so.
A case in point is the recent EU Dairy Package, which allowed individual member states to top up the money provided by Brussels on a € per € basis. And guess what, London said ‘No’.
In my opinion, the abstentionism demonstrated by the UK on the matter of the school milk proposal represents a slap in the face for dairy farmers. At the very least, DEFRA Secretary Liz Truss should stand up in the House of Commons and explain the rationale she followed in coming to this decision.