Child poverty campaigners want the Government to take over feeding hungry children in low-income schools after the supermarket chain Countdown torpedoed a Red Cross breakfast programme.

Child Poverty Action Group co-director Alan Johnson said yesterday that taxpayer-funded food should be available to all children attending decile 1 and 2 schools "as a means of ensuring that all of these children have access to basic nutritional breakfasts".

He said it would cost $11 million a year to employ co-ordinators for four hours a day at all 550 decile 1 and 2 schools.

But National and Labour MPs dismissed the idea.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said low-decile schools already got higher operational funding, and some used some of that to provide meals.

Labour deputy leader Annette King said the priority should be getting large companies such as Countdown to contribute.

Countdown spokesman Luke Schepen said the supermarket chain gave more than $1 million in food and other help to the Red Cross breakfast programme from its start in 2007 until the end of last year.

Red Cross wrote to the 61 decile 1 schools in the programme this month saying it could not find another sponsor and the programme would finish at the end of this term.

It advised the schools to apply to the Kickstart programme run by Fonterra and Sanitarium, which provides milk and cereal to more than 400 schools twice a week.

Kickstart has said it is "able and willing" to take on the 61 Red Cross schools.

Mr Johnson said yesterday Countdown made an outstanding contribution as sponsor of the Red Cross programme and should not be criticised for changing its priorities.

But he said the problem of children coming to school hungry had not gone away, and the Government should partner with school boards, community agencies and volunteers to keep breakfast programmes running.

"You're not going to get buy-in if you simply throw money at the schools," he said. "Some schools will do it well, others won't.

"We want to have a partnership where the schools have to make some effort to raise some of the funds."