Vegan Society calls for milk scheme to include plant alternatives

Rebecca Smithers

The NHS is being urged to revamp its Healthy Start scheme, which provides vouchers to purchase cow’s milk and free supplements containing animal-derived vitamin D, to make it inclusive for vegans.

The Vegan Society has written to the NHS calling for plant-based milk and a vegan-friendly vitamin D to be included in the programme, under which some pregnant women and parents of young children are able to claim vouchers to spend on milk, fruit and vegetables.

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The charity says the restriction imposed by the NHS on the purchase of plant milk and the lack of vegan-friendly vitamin D “unfairly and unreasonably” disadvantages vegans.

The Healthy Start website specifies that only plain cow’s milk can be purchased, which can be whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed and must also be pasteurised, sterilised, long-life or ultra-heat treated. It expressly excludes soya milk and “infant formula that is not based on cow’s milk”. The Vegan Society also says that the Healthy Start supplements specified contain vitamin D made from animal fat.

Dr Jeanette Rowley of the Vegan Society and solicitor Edie Bowles from Advocates for Animals both say the voucher scheme is discriminatory.

The letter says: “The convictions of vegans come within the protection of the law and, on the face of it, it appears that the Healthy Start voucher scheme could be inadvertently discriminatory.”

Heather Russell, a dietitian at the Vegan Society, said: “It is important for everyone to eat calcium-rich foods daily and fortified plant milk plays an important role in vegan nutrition … calcium content is comparable and the soya variety is similar to cow’s milk in terms of protein quantity and quality.”

More than half of UK adults are now adopting “vegan buying behaviour” and the number of full-time vegans has grown fourfold in the past 10 years to 600,000, according to the Vegan Society.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.