Manaia Health PHO Chief Executive Chris Farrelly has slammed the high cost of milk saying it is a national outrage that a country that produces 15 billion litres annually cannot supply cheap milk to the domestic market.
Manaia Health PHO provides primary health services in Northland to 93,000 registered people with a large number of children.
The price of milk in a Whangarei supermarket for a two litre bottle of milk was up to $4.79 and the cheapest was $3.65. Families in Australia are paying A$2. Recently the price of milk in Australia was slashed by 33%, while the price of milk continues to rise.
“Milk is vital for children’s health and bone development. Milk and milk products provide energy, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. It should be seen as an essential food – not a luxury” says Chris Farrelly.
The New Zealand Children’s Nutrition survey shows that milk consumption has dropped by a third since the 1980s, replaced by soft drinks which are usually much cheaper.
The 2010 draft Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People state that as part of a varied diet preschoolers and children aged 2 to 12 years should consume at least two servings of milk and milk products each day and young people aged 13 to 18 years should consume at least three servings.
Just over a third of children now drink milk daily, another third drink it weekly and 17 percent do not drink it at all.
“Low income families simply cannot afford to drink milk,” says Mr Farrelly. “It’s no wonder we are seeing increasing childhood obesity and diabetes if families are swapping milk for fizzy.
“The argument that milk sold in New Zealand must match international prices is a nonsense particularly when only 5% of our milk production is for the domestic market. We should note the wisdom of the large middle east oil producing states which ensure cheap petrol for their own people” Mr Farrelly says.
“To our country’s shame 22% of our children are living in poverty. 55,000 children in New Zealand do not eat breakfast on any given day. This has a proven impact on academic performance, behaviour and overall health.
“Sometimes the issues around child poverty overwhelm us, we have deep concern but don’t know what to do. However as a country there are specific interventions that will make a difference for our children – and we could start by lowering the price of milk” he says.
Other things we can do to encourage milk drinking and healthy food choices include:
• Introducing price control or subsidies and not relying on an uncompetitive domestic market to constrain prices.
• Offering assistance to low-income families to ensure they can afford to buy healthy food.
• Including milk as part of a “Breakfast in Schools” programme in lower-decile schools.
• Reducing or eliminating GST on food