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Free Produce Program In European Union

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 7, 2007

A hat tip to Duncan McNiff for passing on the article Free Fruit and Veg on Menu for Schools and Hospitalsfrom the Irish Independent:

FREE fruit and veg could be on the school menu as the European Union announced plans to pay farmers to give surplus produce to schools, hospitals and prisons.

The plan is contained in a major new shake-up of EU policy in a bid to get us eating more healthy foods and to help farmers fight back against the might of the supermarkets.

EU Farm Commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel yesterday announced major reforms of the EU fruit and vegetable support mechanisms with an end to production and export subsidies, which would be substituted with direct payments to growers.

They aim to spend €48m diverting free fruit and veg into schools, holiday camps and public institutions over six years in a bid to promote healthy eating.

Farmers would be paid in full for produce delivered free to schools, holiday camps, hospitals, charitable organisations, old people’s homes and penal institutions, and this would be funded by cutting current EU payments for withdrawing perishable products if they are not selling well.

The EU published new figures showing Irish people are bottom of the European table for eating fruit and veg, eating just 245g or less than three portions each day.

Nutritionists agree we should be eating at least five portions or 400g daily but in Europe only the Italians and Greeks manage that, and Ms Fischer Boel said the reform measures could help improve that, although it will have to be agreed by member states.

“Fruit and vegetables have a crucial role to play in improving people’s diets. That is why I want to encourage consumption,” she said.

The Commission is hoping that Bord Bia’s highly successful Food Dude programme pioneered in Ireland would be a model for how this could be done.

They will also give more powers and supports to Producers’ Organisations which sell fresh produce for growers in a bid to dilute the increasing power of supermarkets to dictate terms.

“It’s no secret that the retail sector now highly concentrated, has an astonishing power to set prices,” Ms Fischer Boel told the European Parliament’s agriculture committee.

“Many agricultural sectors have to cope with this problem. But the supermarkets seem to have the fruit and vegetable sector in a particularly strong arm-lock,” she said.

Her reforms would also require at least 20pc of EU supports go to environmental measures such as pesticide controls and more funding of organic production throughout the EU.

PAYMENTS

There are around 500 Irish fruit and vegetable growers set to receive direct EU payments for the first time based on the amounts they have grown in recent years.

Overall the sector is worth around €350m a year here, with potatoes and mushrooms the most important crops although these measures would apply mostly to field vegetables and fruit.

Fruit and vegetables are crucial sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and the more you eat the less likely you are to develop heart disease, stroke or certain cancers — and they’re low in calories and fat.

The gist of the program reminds Americans of the various efforts to get produce into schools, plus other programs to get more produce into offices, plus programs to get produce into the WIC program.

The big issue is that we need evidence that these programs actually do increase consumption as opposed to just replacing produce that people would have bought anyway with free produce.

A related issue is including vegetables in the program, as public health depends on more than sweet fruit.

The background question is this: Are we doing something wrong when the only way to increase produce consumption is to give our product away?

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