Should we give milk to children?

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1. Learn the ropes

What’s at stake with the « School Fruit, Vegetables & Milk Scheme » ?
The School Fruit, Vegetables & Milk Scheme supports the distribution of milk, dairy products, fruit and vegetables to millions of children, from nursery to secondary school, across the EU. The program was launched in 2017 and updated in 2022 in the Framework of the Farm to Fork Strategy. It aims to teach children about agriculture, food production, and the impact of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) in their daily lives. In France, 35 million euros a year are given from the EU to finance this program. The products can be distributed in different manners (depending on the type of school, the age of the children…). The program is also a CAP market measure (rules aiming to stabilize agricultural markets, prevent market crises from escalating, boost demand and help EU agricultural sectors to better adapt to market changes). As such, the school scheme ensures the purchase of dairy products. In fact, the new CAP should increase the aid paid to dairy farmers by 2%. Nevertheless, milk consumption is being more and more questioned and criticized.
What is the new CAP and what are its goals?
Since 1962, the CAP aims to support farmers and ensure food security in Europe. Every single European country benefits from this policy. It is financed through the resources of the EU budget. In 2019, the support for EU farmers amounted to 58,82 billions euros. The new CAP was formally adopted in December 2021. It will be implemented in january 2023 and will cover a period of 5 years to implement greener, fairer and more competitive agriculture. Following the Ukrainian crisis, European leaders have realized that the European needs to ensure food sovereignty on a European scale. The New CAP is supposed to meet the requirements of the Green Deal : it promotes a large change in our agriculture thanks to the Farm to Fork Strategy which promotes an agricultural policy that will be beneficial for the climate, biodiversity and health. The New CAP is therefore an essential tool for achieving the ambitions of the Farm to Fork strategy.
Why is milk consumption more and more controversial?
In 2020, France produced over 23 billion liters of cow milk, making it the second biggest milk producer in Europe after Germany. The dairy industry is therefore strategic for France. Nevertheless, more and more voices question and criticize cow milk, which would be harmful to animal welfare and to the environment. Scientists disagree on the health benefits of cow milk for humans: while some of them argue that milk is essential to a balanced diet, others believe that milk does not have any real benefits and could even be bad for our health. Beyond these public health issues, farmers’ working conditions are getting worse and worse. Despite this fact, in France 92% of dairy cattle can enjoy pastures and 87% of them graze for over 170 days a year. Milk is a very popular drink in the country and its consumption is recommended by the government. Nevertheless, can we argue that milk is healthy? Should we keep giving our children milk?

2. Choose your side

The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.

Should we give milk to children?


Consuming dairy products contributes to a balanced and healthy diet!

Nathalie Morel

Dietician-Nutritionist and Director of Food and Health Communication at the Cniel


The EU “School fruit, vegetables and milk” school scheme provides financial support for the distribution of fruits, vegetables, milk and other dairy products in schools wishing to be involved in the program for students from kindergarten to highschool. It aims to promote healthy eating habits, particularly through the possible distribution of products having an official identification sign of quality and origin (SIQO), meaning organic products, AOC/ AOP or IGP products, and products that benefit from a Label Rouge. Another goal is to deepen students’ knowledge regarding agricultural and agri-food products and sectors thanks to educational activities. A chance for the youth to discover the farming world!

Three servings of dairy products a day

Milk, cheeses, yogurts, cottage cheese and fermented milks are part of the dairy food group. According to the PNNS, these products contribute to a balanced and healthy diet. French health authorities recommend children to eat three servings of dairy products each day. However please note that children (especially children under the age of 5) should not be given raw milk or raw milk cheese because of potential health risks. One serving of dairy products can for instance consist of a 150ml glass of milk, a 30g piece of cheese or a yogurt. Associated with buttered bread toasts and a fruit, milk guarantees a balanced breakfast or snack for children. Chocolate can be added for an even more delicious bowl of milk! Dairy products can thus be easily consumed, with or without preparation, during the meals of one’s choice during the day.

Dairy products contribute to the recommended nutritional intake for children

Dairy products consumption contributes to the nutritional intake of proteins, calcium, vitamins (group B, A, D), trace elements and minerals (iodine, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium…) that are essential for a healthy human body. More particularly, calcium plays many roles in our organism and contributes to normal bone growth. The coverage of calcium needs is therefore particularly important during childhood. Dairy products are the food group that contributes the most to the calcium needs of children, far ahead of the other food groups. In this respect, the EU “School fruit, vegetables and milk” school scheme contributes to the nutritional needs of children.

As a natural product, milk also has another major advantage: it has a good nutritional quality-price ratio, which means that milk is not only interesting for its nutritional value, but also for its price, allowing it to adapt to any kind of budget.

The diversity of dairy products meets everyone’s preferences and we appreciate them, among other things, for their smoothness and their unique tastes!


No alcohol nor milk in schools

Elise Desaulniers

Writer, journalist and vegan activist


« To be studious, sturdy, strong and vigorous, drink milk ! ». In 1954, Pierre Mendès France was president of the Council and had decided to introduce a daily glass of milk for children with this engaging slogan. World War II was still very recent and many children were suffering from undernutrition. Through promoting milk, the radical-socialist man was seeking to fight against alcoholism. Back then, children in school were often given wine or beer!

However, nearly 70 years later, does milk still belong in French schools?

Since 2017, the EU school « fruit, vegetables and milk scheme » supports the delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, and/or of milk and dairy products to millions of children. It has been updated as part of the « farm to fork » strategy, at the heart of the European Green Deal, which aims to make food systems fair, safe and environmentally sustainable.

The truth is : all the nutrients in milk can easily be found in other foods

The reason why milk is being distributed in French classrooms is mainly because the French National Nutrition and Health Program (PNNS) recommends consuming 3 to 4 servings of milk or dairy each day. They however warn the population against soy products, considered deceptive. And yet, elsewhere in the world, guidelines are quite different. In the UK, it is advised to eat « a few » dairy products or substitutes (for instance soy beverages) without mentioning quantities. Across the Atlantic, in Canada, the Dairy Group has disappeared and merged into the Protein foods group, which should represent a quarter of your plate. The truth is : all the nutrients in milk can easily be found in other foods.

Those food guidelines reforms in the UK and Canada result from scientific advances in nutrition research and from taking climate change into account. This was not a concern at Mendès France’s time, but nowadays we know that cows produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

According to the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the dairy industry generates 4% of our global greenhouse gas emissions.

Harvard researchers have asked themselves how many dairy products should be eaten to restrict climate change. The answer? No more than one cup of milk or 30g of hard cheese per person and per day. It is clear that with 3 or 4 servings of dairy per day, the PNNS recommendations are not compatible with the goals to fight against greenhouse gas emissions. Which is exactly why Germany is encouraging the inclusion of plant-based beverages in the European strategy.

Consuming milk in large quantities is a Western characteristic

In the context of the fight against climate change, encouraging the population – and getting children used to consuming more dairy products makes as much sense as encouraging people to travel on a plane.

Consuming milk in large quantities is a Western characteristic – and very much French. On a global scale, almost 68% of humans are lactose intolerant, which means that they cannot digest milk as adults. As the population of France has more and more diversity, shouldn’t children be offered more options? And shouldn’t we teach future citizens where they can find essential nutrients in less energy-consuming plant-based proteins?

When Pierre Mendès France tried to get alcohol out of schools, he faced an outcry from producers (roadblocks, demonstrations and strikes). Reactions would probably be no different today if the State was brave enough to take the same actions with milk. This does not change the fact that, like alcohol in the past, milk no longer belongs in schools.

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