Sugar tax monies should be used to fund free school milk

Next April will see the introduction of a ‘Sugar Tax’, targeted at soft drink sales in Ireland.

In my opinion this is one of the most enlightened fiscal measures ever introduced in the jurisdiction.

It will help tackle the combined challenge of increasing childhood obesity and rising rates of type 2 diabetes.

Estimates for the UK indicate that the possible revenue take, emanating from its new sugar tax, will be in the region of €600 million annually. One could, therefore, estimate a commensurate figure for Ireland of some €40 million. So much for the good news; the bad news is that we do not know what use this new revenue stream will be put to.

For the Irish government to simply pocket the sugar tax monies, without putting something back to encourage a healthy lifestyle, is unthinkable.

And where better to start, in this regard, than with our young people.

The reality is that the introduction of the sugar tax had been flagged up months ago. And, given this background, I believe the dairy industry has missed a trick in not making a genuine case for the introduction of a ‘free school milk’ initiative, using some, or all, of the new revenue stream to pay for it.

In fact the government could go one step further and include a piece of fruit, along with the free milk, for young children within an agreed age category.

But let’s get back to milk. It really is nature’s wonder.

I am aware of the current EU Milk Scheme, which provides subsidised milk to primary schools. It is promoted by the National Dairy Council (NDC). At present a significant number of local primary and nursery schools avail of the funding that is available. And this is extremely encouraging. But it still puts a cost burden on parents. And then there is the added bureaucracy imposed on the schools.

I am old enough to remember the ‘free school milk’ scheme that was operated in Northern Ireland.

In my primary school class, four different guys were delegated to do ‘crate duty’ each week.

And, yes, the milk was warm if we hit a hot spell running up to the summer holidays. But, no doubt, there are lots of ways to serve up milk in school now that make it a drink to be truly enjoyed the year round.

If the government is truly serious about tackling the scourge of childhood obesity and diabetes, some form of nutritional solution will be required.

It strikes me that the availability of free primary school milk in tandem with a nice piece of fruit might well be a useful start in this regard.