Fonterra milks it, and so can the children

Last updated 10:38 15/12/2012

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OPINION: By this time next year every Taranaki primary school pupil should be in the enviable position of receiving free milk every day.

New Zealand's largest corporate entity Fonterra is to be congratulated for its largesse in making that possible and hopefully the uptake in this dairy-farming rich region will be close to 100 per cent.

Fonterra trialled the "Milk for Schools" scheme successfully in Northland, where it provided milk to 10,000 primary school children and this week announced it will be extended across the country next year.

That was done with some fanfare with All Black captain Richie McCaw fronting the high-profile announcement, which, not coincidentally, was held at Hillpark Primary School in Manurewa.

The concept is staggeringly simple. Each child will receive a daily serving of 180ml low-fat milk. Fonterra takes that a step further by also providing fridges to schools to keep it cool.

That will come as good news to mature readers who no doubt still have vivid memories of a generation ago when children were supplied with small bottles of milk to drink at morning interval. That was fine as long as the weather wasn't too hot and the milk was left out in the sun, rendering it marginally drinkable.

The fridges could well be the key to successfully implementing the programme, especially when the logistics of it are taken into account.

There are 2000 primary schools in New Zealand, with 350,000 pupils. But in a time when the focus is on children living in poverty who routinely arrive at school hungry this is a step, albeit a first one, in the right direction.

The Northland trial was not a complete success though. A significant number of children opted out of the scheme, saying they didn't like the taste. That is understandable. Some of those children may never have tasted milk which was not flavoured so they could be forgiven for needing some time to adjust to the taste of 100 per cent pure milk.

For others, who are lactose intolerant, the programme will be of little interest. That, however, is the exception rather than the rule and is a symptom of today's more complex world.

Starting in Southland in term one next year, the programme will be progressively rolled out and schools wanting to be part of it should receive the milk before the end of next year. Just when it is offered to Taranaki schools is unclear, but as the region contributed so much to the creation of dairy giant Fonterra, sooner rather than later would be appreciated.

As with many enterprises of this magnitude, there is a commercial motive. University of Auckland research shows children's milk consumption in the Northland community, at school and home, has significantly increased since the pilot began. Fonterra admits milk sales have been stagnant at best in recent years, and hopes that many children will become confirmed milk drinkers as a result of the initiative. If that does happen, then it is the ultimate win-win situation.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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