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.
“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.
“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.