School fruit scheme encounters controversy in Europe

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School fruit scheme encounters controversy in Europe

Freshfel Europe and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) have expressed concern over a new legislative proposal to combine an initiative to get schoolchildren eating more fruits and vegetables with another program to encourage milk consumption.  Thefruit_square organizations expressed fear over "mixed messages" that could "jeopardize achievements."

The European Commission unveiled plans to combine the School Fruit Scheme (SFS) and the School Milk Scheme (SMS) in Brussels on Jan. 31, saying a joint initiative would boost their effectiveness, streamline administration and generally make them easier to manage.

However, this week Freshfel representatives, alongside colleagues from the EPHA, have spoken out about their concerns at combining the projects. Although both schemes aim to reduce the alarming increase of childhood obesity and strengthen links between children and agriculture, they are still very different.

"Whilst acknowledging the Commission’s intention to take stock of the effectiveness of the educational measures of the SFS and to roll them out onto the SMS, both associations fear that such a lumped program might potentially mean a loss of identity for the fruit and vegetable scheme," a press release said.

Although both organizations acknowledge the commission’s intentions to "address poor nutrition and to fight against obesity among European schoolchildren," they urged the SFS should exist an as single policy and want to defend its identify and objectives.

One of their main concerns is that a premature merger of the schemes could be detrimental to the SFS because the aims of both schemes are "widely different." Changes to the fruit scheme have yet to be implemented through extra funding and any modifications to the SFS should wait until planned improvements are put into practice and monitored, the release said.

Other concerns relate to how important messages will be communicated and how funding may be allocated.

"Considering a greater integration of these schemes would hinder any consensual communication efforts and will put into question the high level of health protection of children, one of the primary objectives of the SFS," the release added.

"The flexibility in moving the earmarked funds between the schemes might require performing an assessment of its potential impacts, as we fear a tendency to move funds from fruit and vegetables towards milk distribution may occur – not because of greater demand for the latter but because of the still relatively under-developed networks of production and distribution for the former."

The release went on to explain that the school fruit network has been in operation for just four years, in comparison to 30 years of operation for the school milk supply chain.

"In a time of stagnating fruit and vegetable consumption, it is important to have well-structured, well-funded and efficient policies," said Philippe Binard, Freshfel general delegate.

EPHA president Peggy McGuire added that "from a public health perspective, the EU’s SFS presented an excellent example of health in all policies. It demonstrated that well-targeted public investment pays off by promoting healthy diets in those for whom we should care about the most – our children. Of course, we could always do more and better, provided the change is to serve good purpose and not just to cut the amount of red tape."

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