The British press dubbed the future Prime Minister “Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher” for sponsoring legislation to eliminate the free milk program for students over the age of seven. The program had its beginnings in 1940 when children and pregnant women were issued milk to prevent malnutrition that might be brought about by wartime shortages. Thirty years later with Britain mired in an economic crisis, Thatcher claimed that the free milk was too expensive and proceeded to steer through legislation limiting it to children under the age of seven. Whether this has had any health consequence is difficult to determine. Certainly it is possible to have a healthy diet without any intake of dairy products as is attested to multitudes of Asians and vegans. There does not appear to be an increase in any calcium deficiency conditions in Britain that can be attributed to the withdrawal of the free milk program. Students were not enamored of the program since the milk was usually not refrigerated and curdled when the weather was warm.
There was another issue. In the UK at the time milk was delivered in glass bottles sealed with foil caps. Because the lustry caps invited attacks by birds, the milk on occasion was linked to outbreaks of bacterial poisoning caused by Campylobacter jejuni. The problem was that some birds, such as magpies and jackdaws are known to frequent rubbish and cow manure piles where such bacteria are prevalent. Indeed, in 1991 there was an outbreak of diarrheal illness at an Exeter nursery involving 15 children over four weeks that was eventually traced to birds. Campylobacter spores were isolated from the children’s stools despite the fact that the nursery was rigorously clean. It turned out that milk was often given to the children, delivered in glass bottles with silver caps. Occasionally caps were found to have holes in them, apparently pecked by magpies. The milkman was supposed to cover the bottles but sometimes forgot and the pecked milk was given to children. Bottles were put out and constant watch revealed magpie pecking and analysis then showed Campylobacter jejuni in the bottles. To cap it off, spores of Campylobacter were isolated from the beaks of culled birds, So Margaret Thatcher, who at the time was accused of undermining the health of children, may actually have prevented some bouts of serious bacterial infection. Some Thatcher opponents now claim that the aging politician’s bent appearance is a result of calcium deficiency and is just deserved for her crimes against children. Insensitive nonsense.