European Commission plans to improve and increase EU aid for school milk, fruit and vegetable distribution by 16.7 %, so as to instil healthy eating habits at an early age and combat increasing child obesity, were discussed by Agriculture Committee MEPs on Wednesday.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) distribution programmes set up in 1977 (milk) and 2009/10 (fruit and vegetables) need to be simplified and must be backed up by educational measures, such as school visits to farms and teaching nutritional basics, the Commission says. Flexible implementing and uniformed funding rules proposed in January 2014 include requirements for member states to set up national targets.

Although 30 million children in the EU are benefitting from the schemes today, simply distributing fresh agricultural products has proven insufficient to fight declining consumption. One out of three children (aged 6-9 yrs) will be overweight in the EU by 2020, according to World Health Organisation estimates, as compared to one out of four in 2008..

Some members insisted that funding should be more fairly distributed among member states according to objective criteria and needs, while others would like to keep up past amounts of the milk scheme. The range of products, including processed fresh fruit, vegetables and milk, should be widened and adapted to local habits

"The earlier the better, therefore Kindergardens must be included, said Mrs Maria Noichl (S&D, DE) while Peter Eriksson (Greens/EFA, SE), Luke Flanagan (GUE/NLG, IE) and Jens Rohde (ALDE, DK) advocated scrapping the EU-wide voluntary scheme: "It's up to member states to decide what their kids should eat".

Deputy Director General of the Commission’s Agriculture DG Jost Korte explained that flexibility criteria will allow seasonal, territorial and organic production to be included, as requested by some members, while the funding shares will be determined by demographics (number of children older than 2 years) and mixed criteria respecting historical rights.

Next steps

The Agriculture Committee will designate a rapporteur to draft a report and lead the debate on amendments to the proposal before Parliament approves it. The Commission wants the changes to take effect from 2016 on.