MEPs want healthier eating habits in school

Milk with lunch. [USDA/Flickr]

A majority of MEPs on Wednesday (27 May) backed the Commission’s proposals for the EU’s merged fruit and milk scheme in schools, in order to promote healthier eating habits among young people.

However, the Parliament also amended draft rules and decided to give a mandate to lawmakers to negotiate with member states.

In early 2014, the Commission proposed to bring two separate EU schemes on milk and fruit together under a joint framework to promote healthier lifestyles and combat obesity among school children.

>>Read: WHO warns of burgeoning obesity crisis in Europe

“A healthy and balanced diet is the foundation of good health,” said the Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D), who is responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament.

“Yet consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk has been declining across the EU, with many negative consequences for Europeans. The new rules aim to ensure that more is done in our schools, not only to give our children healthy foodstuffs, but to educate them better about healthy eating habits.”

Over 20 million children are overweight, and adolescents on average eat only 30% to 50% of the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

MEPs want to add milk products, such as cheese, curd and yoghurt to the list of foodstuffs eligible for EU funding (provided they are not flavoured and do not contain added fruits, nuts or cocoa), with priority to go to local and regional products.

They also said that EU member states should earmark 10-20% of the EU funding for educational activities, in order to promote healthy eating habits and fight food waste, including farm visits and occasional distribution of local specialities.

Not an EU area

But conservative MEPs argued that the area of milk and fruit for school children was too small for the EU to be concerned with.

>>Read: Ban on junk-food sales in Latvian schools

“The needs to be looking at the bigger picture of competitiveness, jobs and growth and leave projects like this – worthy as they may be – to member states or regional and local government,” said Richard Ashworth, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group’s agriculture spokesperson.

“Secondly, the EU’s Court of Auditors has repeatedly criticised this scheme for its inefficiency and poor value. Finally, this is not a proper use of Common Agricultural Policy spending. That budget is already stretched and this is not the type of thing it was intended for. Getting fruit and milk into schools may be a good thing, but the EU are the wrong people to be doing it,” Ashworth added.

"A healthy diet is a key issue for the youngest populations in Europe, while the risk of obesity continue to grow, especially for children," said French MEPs Michel Dantin and Angelique Delahaye from the European People's Party (EPP). "These programs encourage the consumption of healthy products, with priority given to local and seasonal products, while taking into account regional dietary habits. Of course, we must also educate the little ones so that they persist in eating habits outside of school," they said.

The European Dairy Association (EDA) welcomed the Parliament draft rules on the the plan to merge the school milk and fruit schemes:

"EDA is pleased with the extension from the initial European Commission proposal from only plain milk to unflavoured yogurts, curd and cheese to the list of foodstuffs eligible for EU funding. However, EDA is concerned by the fact that not all dairy products, eligible under the current School Milk Scheme, are included in the draft rules. This is namely the case for flavoured milks and yogurts that do have proven beneficial effects on children’s health. The proposed European Parliament rules exclude flavoured yogurts and milks on the basis of arguments that fall outside of the remits of the School Milk Scheme. Let us not forget that the founding goal of the School Milk Scheme is to provide quality products for children in order to contribute to a healthy way of living by delivering a nutritious and balanced diet to EU children," the EDA said.

The School Milk scheme was set up in 1977 and the School Fruit scheme in 2009.

Both programmes benefit nearly 30 million children every year (over 20 million for the milk scheme and 8,5 million for the school fruit scheme).

In most EU countries children's consumption of fruits and vegetables is declining and remains below the recommended daily intake. The consumption of milk is also declining.

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