The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come under fire for refusing to offer schools the same financial support to give children soymilk as to give them cow's milk.

The USDA will not reimburse schools for the cost of offering soymilk as an alternative to cow's milk within part of the federally assisted meal plan, except in cases of medical need.

Growing numbers of US children are having trouble digesting cow's milk, however, especially African American, Latino and Asian children, who have a higher than average incidence of lactose intolerance according to scientific studies. And many schools are left in a bind.

As Jean Daniel, the USDA's public affairs director for food and nutrition, explained to the Washington Post: "Milk must be served with school lunch, according to USDA regulations. If not, it's not considered a reimbursable meal."

Daniel did say however that the issue may be discussed by officials in "listening sessions" as they debate any revisions to the National School Lunch Program guidelines, which will go before Congress for approval next year

Meanwhile, Greg Miller, senior VP of nutrition and scientific affairs for the National Dairy Council, insists that lactose intolerance is "an issue that animal rights groups blow out of proportion".