New rules for a single EU School Scheme for Milk, Fruit & Vegetables to cover two currently separate school schemes - the School Fruit Scheme and the School Milk Scheme - have been supported by Member States at today's Agriculture Council meeting in Luxembourg.
In addition to the greater efficiencies and reduced administrative burden brought by using a common framework, the main changes in the new arrangements will be an increase in available funding, and greater emphasis put on the educational elements for children. At the same time, the new text will respect concerns about flexibility for Member States.
With the Council having approved the European Parliament's position, the new Regulation will be formally adopted and published in the Official Journal in the coming weeks.
Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, said:
"I'm delighted with the successful conclusion of the reform
and thank the Parliament and the Council for their constructive cooperation throughout the process that started way back in January 2014. This is an important measure to bring sustained changes in children's eating habits and invest in a healthier lifestyle, in line with the challenges that our society faces. It is also a great opportunity to strengthen the links between the farming community and children, their parents and teachers. Last but not least, the increase in its budget at times where financial resources are scarce and new priorities are emerging provides an appropriate signal to farmers and markets under pressure".
The new scheme will operate as from 1 August 2017 under a joint legal and financial framework. This will ensure synergies for more effective and efficient implementation and simplification.
Participation will continue to be voluntary for Member States. Priority will be for the distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables and for drinking milk to schoolchildren. Member States will also have flexibility to supplement this distribution with processed fruits and vegetables and other milk products.
Greater focus will be on educational measures to improve children's awareness of healthy eating habits, as well as on sustainability, environmental and food waste issues.
The total budget from the European Union is increased to € 250 million per year, of which € 150 million for fruit and vegetables (as at present) and € 100 million for milk and milk products (from the proposed € 80 million).
The School milk scheme was set up in 1977 and the School fruit scheme in 2009.
Around 20 million children benefit from the milk scheme and around 10 million from the fruit and vegetables scheme per year. The need for these schemes is even more relevant today, in the light of the declining trend in the medium-term consumption of fruit and vegetables and milk and of emerging nutrition challenges.
In most countries, children's consumption of fruits and vegetables is declining and remains below the recommended daily intake. Drinking milk consumption is also declining and children's consumption is shifting towards highly processed products.
Obesity has become a real concern: in 2010 the World Health Organisation estimated that around 1 in 3 children in the EU between 6 and 9 years of age are overweight or obese. This trend is increasing quickly: estimates for 2008 were 1 in 4 children.