School milk and fruit: MEPs and Council strike a deal to promote healthy eating
Measures to strengthen and fund better EU schemes for the distribution of fruit, vegetables and milk products in schools and promote healthier eating were provisionally agreed by Parliament's negotiators, the Luxembourg presidency and the Commission on Thursday last week and confirmed by the Council on Wednesday. The informal deal, which still needs to be backed by MEPs and EU ministers, would merge today’s separate school milk and fruit schemes and put more emphasis on children's education.
"While a healthy and balanced diet is the foundation of good health, the consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk has been declining across the EU with many negative consequences for Europeans. Healthy eating habits start young and therefore I hail this agreement that will ensure that more is done in our schools in terms of healthy eating education," said Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE), who steered the legislation through the Parliament and headed EP's negotiating team.
"I am also glad that we have been able to agree with the Council that budget-related matters, such as the budget of the programme, criteria on how to allocate money to member states and transfers of funds from the milk part of the scheme to the fruit one and back, are co-decided by both, MEPs and national ministers. This was a red-line for the Parliament and I am happy to see that the Council of EU ministers is slowly moving from the pre-Lisbon era to the more democratic and accountable post-Lisbon one," Mr Tarabella added.
Including budget-related issues in the co-decided basic act rather than in a Council regulation means that member states will not be able to unilaterally cut the budget or change the criterial for allocating EU funds among themselves.
Fairer distribution among member states of €250 million/year for healthy eating
Parliament managed to allocate an additional €20 million a year for milk measures. This would bring annual funding for milk and milk products up to €100 million, with €150 million for fruit and vegetables.
MEPs also insisted on fairer distribution of EU funds among EU member states by setting two core criteria for the entire scheme (share of six to ten-year-old children 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 possibly reviewed after the first six years of the new scheme and would be balanced with a new, minimum annual amount of EU aid per child.
More emphasis on education
To make the EU school scheme more effective, member states should do more to promote healthy eating habits, local food chains, organic farming and fight against food waste, MEPs insisted. The educational measures should also better connect children with agriculture through e.g. farm visits and the distribution of local specialties such as honey and olives.
Products eligible for EU funding
The provisional deal defines which products could be distributed in schools under the new EU scheme. Thanks to MEPs the priority should be given to under-consumed local fresh products over the processed ones. Member States will be able to distribute processed foods like soups, compotes, juice, yoghurts and cheese only in addition to fresh fruit and vegetables and milk or lactose-free milk.
Parliament ensured that only products with healthy nutritional content can be distributed. Added sweeteners and artificial flavour enhancers will be banned.
Distribution of products with added sugar, salt and fat should be allowed only as an exception, MEPs insisted. They made sure that the Commission would have to define and the Parliament scrutinise strict limits for amounts of these additives in the final product. And even then, the product would have to be endorsed by a national health authority before it can be made available to school kids under the EU scheme.
Products containing added fruits, nuts or cocoa, such as chocolate milk or yogurts with fruits, and flavoured foodstuffs will still be eligible for EU funding under the schools schemes, according to the deal. But MEPS ensured that the EU will pay only for the milk part of it, which should make up at least 90%, or in some exceptional cases, at least 75% of the final product.
After today's endorsement by the Council's Special committee on agriculture (SCA), the informal deal still needs to win a green light from the Parliament's Agriculture committee and then from the full House before it lands again on the Council's table for its final 1st reading approval.
Note to editors
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).
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.