A new draft new law, provisionally agreed with EU ministers in December 2015 and approved by Parliament on Tuesday, will merge the separate EU school milk and fruit schemes and boost their combined annual budget by $22m (€20m) to $274m (€250m) a year.
Of this amount, $110m (€100m) is earmarked for the milk program, which was set up in 1977.
Member states signing up for this voluntary aid scheme will have to promote more healthy eating habits, local food, organic farming and the fight against food waste. Children should also be reconnected with agriculture, for example through farm visits.
Fresh over processed
"A healthy, balanced diet is the foundation of good health, but the consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk has been declining across the EU,” said Marc Tarabella, author of the report, who steered the legislation through the EU parliament.
“This is why it is of the utmost importance to strengthen the school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme by increasing its budget and making it more focused on healthy-eating education. Parliament also ensured the program’s financial stability, by preventing member states from cutting its budget unilaterally or changing the criteria for allocating EU funds among themselves,” he added.
MEPs amended the list of products eligible for EU funding to ensure that priority is given to under-consumed fresh and local products over processed ones such as yogurts and cheese. The latter can be provided only in addition to milk or lactose-free milk, which take priority, and added sweeteners and artificial flavor enhancers will be excluded.
Making program simpler
Prior to the announcement, Tarabella said that it was also important to rebalance the system to account for new members while not penalizing other countries that have been using these programs for a long time.
“We also ensured a fairer distribution of funds via objective criteria, for example the number of children aged from six to ten in a particular country,” he said.
He said during the announcement that he wanted the program to be simpler so that schools didn’t drop out.
The provisionally agreed regulation still needs to be formally approved by the Council, with the new rules applying from August 1, 2017.
Dairy UK welcomes announcement
Dairy UK has welcomed the plan, with chief executive Dr Judith Bryans, saying, “The European Parliament has quite rightly put milk at the core of the EU’s health agenda to improve childhood nutrition and teach school children about the importance of healthy eating.
“Dairy UK has been working tirelessly with representatives of European institutions to promote the tremendously healthy and nutritious qualities of dairy products and therefore we are delighted that MEPs have taken our messages on board.”