MEPs endorse better schooling in healthier eating habits
Children across the EU should soon get the benefit of better-funded school milk, fruit and vegetable schemes, along with better education on healthy eating.
A new draft new law to this end, provisionally agreed with EU ministers in December 2015 and approved by Parliament on Tuesday, will merge today's separate EU school milk and fruit schemes and boost their combined annual budget by €20 million to €250 million a year.
"A healthy, balanced diet is the foundation of good health, but the consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk has been declining across the EU. This is why it is of the utmost importance to strengthen the school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme by increasing its budget and making it more focused on healthy-eating education. Parliament also ensured the programme’s financial stability, by preventing member states from cutting its budget unilaterally or changing the criteria for allocating EU funds among themselves", said Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE), who steered the legislation through Parliament and led its negotiating team.
More lessons on healthy eating, more and fairer funding
Member states signing up for this voluntary aid scheme will have to promote more healthy eating habits, local food, organic farming and the fight against food waste. Children should also be reconnected with agriculture, for example through farm visits.
Parliament won an additional €20 million a year to fund the distribution of milk products and educational measures. This brings the annual funding for milk up to €100 million, and €150 million for fruit and vegetables.
MEPs also ensured that the EU funds will be shared more fairly among member states, by setting two core criteria for the entire scheme (share of six to 10-year-olds in the population and degree of development of the region within the member state). Past levels of milk-scheme funds will be taken into account and will be balanced with a new, minimum annual amount of EU aid per child.
Healthier nutritional choice of distributed food
MEPs amended the list of products eligible for EU funding to ensure that priority is given to under-consumed fresh and local products over processed ones like soups, compotes, juice, yoghurts and cheese. The latter could be provided only in addition to fresh fruit, vegetables and milk or lactose-free milk. MEPs also ensured that added sweeteners and artificial flavour enhancers will be excluded and the distribution of products with limited amounts of added sugar, salt and fat will receive EU funding only as an exception, subject to strict conditions which include an approval by national health authorities.
The provisionally agreed regulation, endorsed in Parliament by 584 votes to 94, with 32 abstentions, still needs to be formally approved by the Council. The new rules should apply from 1 August 2017.
The school milk scheme was set up in 1977. The school fruit scheme, which includes a provision for education, was introduced in 2009. Both schemes were set up to promote the consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk and milk products but they have so far operated under different legal and financial arrangements.
All 28 EU member states participate in the school milk scheme and 25 in the school fruit scheme (all except the UK, Finland and Sweden). Almost 10 million children across the EU benefited from the EU school fruit scheme and some 19 million benefited from the milk one in 2013/2014.
Consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk is still falling across Europe. Over 20 million EU children are overweight and adolescents on average eat only 30% to 50% of the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables.