A leading produce organization has warned that the European Commission may be planning to scrap the EU School Fruit Scheme, as part of the union's so-called 'Better Regulation' plans.
In a release, the European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel) said the EC would be meeting with EU member states and stakeholders on March 2 to discuss the scheme, which provides fruit and vegetables and promotes healthy eating habits to more than 8.6 million kids in more than 50,000 schools across Europe.
The group said the EC was considering suspending the program as it saw it as an obstacle to achieving better regulation and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) goals.
Ahead of the March meeting, a coalition of 12 public health and produce organizations have urged decision makers to maintain the SFS, especially as the €90-150 million (US$102-170 million) cost is minimal at 0.25% of the EU agricultural budget and it has only been in place for five years.
Freshfel highlighted there were 22 million overweight children in the EU of which 5.1 million were obese; a trend that is set to make another 1.2 million kids overweight and 300,000 obese each year.
"This scheme has already proved to be a remarkable instrument to help children discover [the] taste, texture and diversity of fruit and vegetables while contributing to tackle the growing problem of obesity," said Freshfel general delegate Philippe Binard.
"The SFS also supports the agricultural sector, a key industry for the EU's jobs, as it promotes the consumption of products and connect [sic] suppliers to schools in their neighbourhood."
Analysis from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) shows fruit and vegetable consumption has been falling since the start of the economic crisis, as households tend to replace healthy food with cheaper processed and calorie-dense foodstuffs.
"The EU SFS is a very cost-effective investment in public health. It will protect the future health of today's children as they grow up and in the long run pay itself back many times over in savings to Europe's economies and health systems which are already feeling the strain of unhealthy eating and shrinking budgets," said European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) health equity and public coherence coordinator Dorota Sienkiewicz.