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A Dream Becomes Reality As
EU Votes To Fund School Fruit Scheme

Our piece, Pan-European School Fruit Scheme, brought substantial feedback. Professor C. Fergus Lowe sent this missive pointing out that the Food Dudes program, which we discussed both here and here, is rolling out:

I read with great interest your interview with Dr. Laurence Swan and Philippe Binard, both of whom are playing an important role in promoting school fruit and vegetable schemes in Europe. As mentioned in the interview, the Food Dudes programme has been adopted by the Irish Government, and will also be made available to other European countries that participate in the new Pan-European School Fruit and Vegetables scheme, which comes into effect next year.

You might also like to know that an initial roll-out of the Food Dudes programme begins in selected regions of England in January, 2009. This is supported by the UK Government-established School Food Trust, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, and the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. The scheme will be systematically evaluated by the Department of Health.

This coming year, the Food Dudes programme will also be introduced in Sicily. We are working with groups in California and Canada to establish projects there and, indeed, our University is happy to support all such projects internationally.

There is now a huge amount of evidence which shows that it is not enough merely to make fruit and vegetables available to children, but we must also ensure that they learn to like eating these great foods. That is what the Food Dudes programme does so well and where many other programmes fall down. The necessity of winning over not just children’s hearts and minds but also their taste buds is recognized in the EU scheme, which we all hope will be a great success. If implemented well, it could transform the health of European children.

Professor C Fergus Lowe
Professor of Psychology and
Bangor Food and Activity Research Unit
Bangor University

When we ran the article, Lorelei DiSogra , Vice President of Nutrition and Health at the United Fresh Produce Association — who we interviewed here — gave us a heads up that has proven remarkably prescient:

I very much enjoyed the great article on “Pan European School Fruit Scheme” in Pundit on Oct 17.

If all goes well, all of us involved will be celebrating together with champagne in Brussels on December 15 at the School Fruit Scheme Conference in Brussels, scheduled for December 15-16, 2008.

Let me bring you up to date —

  1. The final vote to approve funding and underlying policies for the EU School Fruit Scheme is anticipated to take place at the EU Council of AG Ministers Meeting in Brussels on November 17-18, 2008. The vote should have taken place at the October 27-28 meeintg, but there were still policy issues to resolve.

  2. DG AGRI, most notably Lars Hoelgaard, Deputy Director General DG AGRI, and Felix Mittermayer, DG AGRI, have worked long and hard on this for the past 18 months. Their leadership and total commitment to funding an EU School Fruit Scheme has made this (almost) a reality. I work closely with Felix and also with Robert Pederson, European Agriculture and Health Consortium, in Brussels on the School Fruit Scheme.

  3. European Commission Conference, “School Fruit — A Healthy Start for our Children. Promoting School Fruit Schemes in the European Union” December 15 — 16, 2008 in Brussels. All 27 EU member countries are invited to bring public and private sector representatives to the Conference. The goal is to share scientific research and best practices to build momentum for every country to start implementing school fruit schemes in their schools by the fall of 2009. The draft agenda for this conference is attached here. I have been asked to speak on “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program in the U.S.: Policy, Best Practices and Benefits”

What’s significant with this EU policy is that school fruit and vegetable snack programs are really taking off as global school-based strategies for increasing children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables and that fruits and vegetables are leading the way with aligning AG policy with public health policy.

On both sides of The Pond, this is a huge policy accomplishment and a Win/Win for the health of children and the produce industry.

Lorelei DiSogra, EdD, R.D.
Vice President, Nutrition and Health
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, DC

Though warning it wasn’t likely at this point in time, the trade association for the European industry held out a slender hope that the program would roll out much larger than had been expected. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott chatted with an executive at Freshfel:

Raquel Izquierdo De Santiago
Food Policy Advisor
Freshfel Europe
Brussels, Belgium

Q: Philippe Binard and Laurence Swan provided excellent background on the proposed EU School Fruit Scheme and issues such as budget still in negotiation earlier this fall. [Editors note: you can read their interviews in the Pundit here]. Could you update us on the latest developments?

A: The European Parliament Committee on Agriculture voted October 7 on the report by Niels Busk MEP (Member of the European Parliament) on the Commission proposal for a EU School Fruit Scheme (SFS). The Committee unanimously backed a higher budget pointing out that the 90 million Euros budget would only amount to every child aged 6-10 years getting one piece of fruit per week for a 30–week period.

Q: That scenario would only seem to generate a limited, short-term outcome as opposed to the wide scope and sweeping changes in children’s produce consumption Philippe Binard envisions. Under Parliament’s analysis, wouldn’t the EU budget need to be dramatically increased to create a significant impact?

A: The most shocking thing Parliament has requested is a much higher budget, and that the Commission should actually finance the whole project. It recommends the budget for the EU School Fruit Scheme should be increased to 500 million Euros, with unused funds to be transferred between Member States. The Committee further called for the EU financing to cover not only the costs of supply but also those of the accompanying measures.

Q: Did Parliament specify how the funds should be used? In the original proposal, for example, it is not clear that all produce used in the program must be fresh?

A: According to the vote of the Committee, the scheme should only cover “fresh fruit and vegetables” due to the less nutritional value of processed products. The MEPs also request that the program be expanded to include preschool children and include health and dietary advice, as well as information on organic produce. According to the MEPs, organic and local fruit and vegetables shall, if available, be given particular consideration and be used as a matter of priority.

Q: The budget increase from 90 million Euros to 500 million Euros is phenomenal. What power does the Parliament yield in getting its amendments to the original proposal into the final legislation?

A: The opinion of Parliament is only consultative. It doesn’t have legal power for the Commission, but it shows where political position stands. It also made important comments on which products should be included in the program. So far there is a lot of flexibility given to Member States on what products they use, how much fresh or processed. Parliament has requested only fresh should be included. This is just political advice; Parliament doesn’t have the power to really stop or change the proposals. It is positive in any case, but discussions are still being held at the consul level.

Q: What is your assessment of the likelihood Parliament’s budget and recommendations will be incorporated, albeit in revised form, into the final document?

A: We don’t see an increase in budget. The Commission is very strong in its views that 90 million Euros is not bad to start with, and there will be a review in three years’ time to reassess the scheme. In any case, it shows there is a political will to push the program to a higher budget to cover all expenses, and be for only fresh produce.

Until the final text, even the Commission says it’s possible; anything is still open until Member States agree on the terms, but at the same time the Commission for Agriculture is proposing the scheme. It is quite strong on the view that 90 million Euros is a good budget. It’s in discussion, but you can also tell which way it’s leaning. The final version of the report with the new amendments incorporated is not yet available. This consultation dossier is scheduled for Plenary vote November 17-20 in Strasbourg, presumably enabling a Council decision before the end of the year.

Things have transpired precisely as Lorelei DiSogra and Raquel Izquierdo De Santiago had predicted:


The European Agriculture and Health Consortium (EAHC) welcomes the Commission’s EU School Fruit Scheme.

Today, the council of agriculture ministers approved the proposal for an EU School Fruit Scheme. The School Fruit Scheme aims at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children by providing free fruits and vegetables in European schools.

The scheme will provide € 90 M per year to schools to purchase fruits and vegetables.

The scheme is part of the Commission response to increase fruit and vegetable consumption as part of their obesity prevention strategy. Currently fruit and vegetable intake is stagnating, which is a problem for both the health of Europeans and the fruit and vegetable sector.

“Fruit and vegetables are an important part of healthy diet. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children can reduce energy intake and at the same time provide valuable nutrients that in the long term can reduce levels of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Given the alarming rate at which obesity is progressing, especially among children, bringing with it other health related problems such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, a European School Fruit Scheme is a necessary step in the right direction” says Susanne Logstrup, Director of the EHN.

“We commend the Commission and the Council of Agriculture Ministers for this action. This represents a new direction in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), specifically targeting healthier eating habits at an early age”, explains Robert Pederson EAHC manager. “We hope that this initiative is backed up by Member States and implemented by as many as possible.”

Yesterday, the EP voted unanimously adopting the report on the School Fruit Scheme. The report includes an amendment to increase the budget to € 500 M. Despite this, the Commission has remained steadfast on € 90 M for the first 3 yrs and evaluating the programme before expanding the budget. It is expected that review of scheme will come in time to feed into the post-2013 CAP, if successful, making more public health measures possible within European agriculture policy.

Mira checked back in with Raquel Izquierdo:

Q: What is your reaction to the Council vote on the EU School Fruit Scheme?

A: As you already know, a political agreement on the EU School Fruit Scheme was reached by EU Farm Ministers during the agricultural council on November 20. Although the European Parliament had called for an increase in budget allocation to 500 million euros and many Member States had called for higher budget allocations, Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel remained resolute that the Community budget line would not move from the proposed 90 million euros a year. These funds are to be matched by national and private funds in the Member States, which engage in the scheme.

Q: Does the agreement resolve issues regarding the types of products that may be incorporated and any products that must be excluded?

A: A large degree of flexibility at the national level has been included in the proposal. National capitals can give “preference to products of Community origin”, while they are requested to “base their selection of eligible products on objective criteria including seasonality, availability of produce, or environmental concerns”.

Meanwhile, the list of products can be wide and varied to include fresh, processed, organic, fair trade produce etc. — on the condition that they do not contain a high percentage of fat or added sugar. For clarity purposes, Member States are asked to “establish the list of products eligible under their scheme when drawing up their strategies”.

Q: Are there any other notable requirements?

A: Following German pressure, Member States may also include a compulsory parental contribution if they so wish, although the Commission declares that it will “pay attention to the impact of a compulsory parental contribution on the effectiveness of a School Fruit Scheme, as well as its social consequences.”

Other elements include a requirement for participating Member States to set up educational and awareness-raising initiatives, and the sharing of best practice across the Community. On this point, the Commissioner sees room to co-finance some of the accompanying measures, “for example, those that fall into the category of promotion”, according to her speech after the European Parliament plenary vote on November 18.

Q: Is Freshfel satisfied with the outcome?

A: Freshfel believes that the compromise has left the Commission proposal too lax, notably on the type of products that can be part of the scheme. We will continue collaborating with the European Commission and members to make sure the program keeps its original and most important purpose. which is fighting obesity by increasing fruit and vegetable intake among the youngest.

Though there was perhaps a little disappointment in Europe that the Parliament’s more ambitious recommendations (described in the Q&A with Raquel Izquierdo of Freshfel above) were not incorporated, at least in some part, that was always a big long shot and thus the outcome was not a surprise. Essentially, the backbone of the original proposal set forth by the Commission, allotting the 90 million euros for one piece of fruit per week, is what passed.

The Dec. 15-16 conference, according to Philippe Binard, is an important next step to promote the program. Expected to attend will be 400 representatives with political backing by top officials, who will be networking with member states, sorting out details on the implementation process, supply, logistics, exchanging ideas, workshops with experts, those running programs in different sectors, etc.

Though everyone involved had hoped there would be more concrete details on issues such as what products would be included (i.e., only fresh fruits and vegetables) and excluded (i.e., nuts, processed foods, juices, etc.), but these details, among others, were not decided at this time. That is a shame as more details would make the December conference more focused and productive to move the implementation process forward more quickly.

One key European official also chatted with Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott on the condition we protect his identity:

Q: In the proposal, what are the issues that are still unresolved?

A: Officially, all the details are in the pipeline and political decision-making process. The Council’s ministers of member states have to take the final decision, based on preliminary negotiations between the European Commission and member states.

Some of the issues:

  • Whether distribution should be compulsory, free-of-charge or if there can be contributions from member states.
  • Details on implementation measures haven’t been decided.
  • How member states will participate to draw down funds and the control of member state program-reporting.

The vote was not in this degree of detail; details will come later now that the basic political decision is made.

Q: What about the budget?

A: The 90-million-euro budget has remained — at least for the start of the program.

In terms of which countries get what amount of money to the types of products, basically these issues will be left to the member states.

The vote is on the general frame work, and then specific implementation rules will follow later. We’re still in the process of general legislation.

Specific implementation rules will have to be agreed upon now that the basic principle political decision is made. There has been a discussion with the European Parliament, only a consultation role, no co-decision-making power. But more appropriate to let them have their say, as a case of respect, recommendations only.

Q: Lorelei DiSogra said she feels strongly that it is important for the legislation to delineate what products may be included to keep the focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and not let the program become diluted with unhealthy snacks. Is this being considered?

A: Member states will take over this responsibility. We’re not in a position to say specifically what the eligible products are for the 27 states. We say member states should take into account their industries, as a reflection of the diversity EU decisions take place in.

In order to avoid diverse mishaps, we want to set up certain products and exclude certain products. For example, we might say no product too high in fat or starch content. A member state then says no potato chips, nuts, or juice. We take it from a health perspective.

Q: If the budget of 90 million euros is not increased, won’t it be a challenge to provide enough funding to all the member states eligible for participation?

A: This is a voluntary program; all can participate, but not all must participate. The preconditions for participation are still to be decided in detail, although the general principles are agreed upon. Money allocated to each member state is a right. We want to encourage as many member states as possible to set up a scheme.

Q: Could you clarify what DG AGRI is?

A: DG AGRI is a department in the European Commission. It was invited by the council to come forward with a proposal. That’s all. The proposal was decided by the member states.


The European Commission welcomed today’s political agreement in the Agriculture Council on its proposal for a European Union-wide scheme to provide fruit and vegetables to school children. European funds worth €90 million every year will pay for the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables to schools. This money will be matched by national and private funds in those Member States which chose to make use of the programme.

The School Fruit Scheme aims to encourage good eating habits in young people, which studies show tend to be carried on into later life. Besides providing fruit and vegetables to a target group of schoolchildren, the scheme will require participating Member States to set up strategies including educational and awareness-raising initiatives and the sharing of best practice. An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight.

More than 5 million these are obese and this figure is expected to rise by 400,000 every year. Improved nutrition can play an important part in combating this problem. The scheme will begin at the start of the 2009/2010 school year.

“I’m delighted that the Council has given its support to our plan so quickly,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “Giving kids good habits at an early age is crucial as they will carry these into later life. Too many of our children eat far too little fruit and vegetables and often don’t realise how delicious they are. You only have to walk down any high street in Europe to see the extent of the problems we face with overweight kids. Now we can do something about it.”

Experts agree that a healthy diet can play an integral role in reducing obesity rates, and cutting the risk of serious health problems — such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes2– in later life. Key to this is the consumption of sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum daily net intake of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per person. The majority of Europeans fail to meet this target and the downward trend is particularly evident among the young.

Studies show that healthy eating habits are formed in childhood. People who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables in childhood remain good consumers. Those who eat little tend not to change their ways and also pass on their habits to their own children. Research has also shown that families with a lower level of income tend to consume less fruit and vegetables. As such, the free provision in schools of these healthy products can make a real difference, particularly in underprivileged areas.

Commission analysis of existing national policies and consultations with experts have demonstrated that the benefits of the school scheme can be enhanced if the provision of fruit is accompanied by awareness-raising and educational measures to teach children the importance of good eating habits. Encouragement will also be given to networking between different national authorities which run successful school fruit schemes. These already exist in some EU countries, and take many different forms. But there is much more that can be done and this EU scheme provides a perfect basis to get new programmes off the ground.

The Commission is putting on the table €90 million per year for the provision of fruit and vegetables in schools. Governments would have the choice of whether to participate or not. The programmes would be co-financed, either on a 50/50 basis, or 75/25 in the so-called ‘convergence regions’, where GDP/capita is lower, as well as outermost regions. Member States can if they wish require a compulsory parental contribution. This money could not be used to replace existing national financing, but would encourage additional activities, be it linked to existing programmes or creating completely new initiatives. And Member States could of course add extra money if they wanted to. National authorities would have to draw up a strategy in conjunction with public health and education authorities, also involving the industry and interest groups, tailored of course to national preferences.

You can find additional information on the School Fruit Scheme here.

Obviously the Europeans get the credit for implementing their own program, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out how generous in praise the Europeans involved in this effort have been toward Lorelei DiSogra and United Fresh. We heard from more than one player at the very highest levels that Lorelei really played a crucial role in making this happen. The industry owes a great deal to Lorelei’s singular passion and to United’s willingness to fund and support her evangelizing ways.

Without a doubt, it is a cause for celebration. Combined with the comparable US program that Lorelei discussed with us here, it means that a great trans-Atlantic consensus has been reached that a focus on diet and on our children is essential to move society to a healthier future.

This is wonderful for the children and can only be good for the fresh produce industry. It is one of those extraordinary moments to be alive when we get to see the force of an idea whose time has come breaking through.

Yet, there are real concerns: Professor Lowe points out that it is “…not enough merely to make fruit and vegetables available to children, but we must also ensure that they learn to like eating these great foods.”

Although the judgment has been made that we have to start with what we can get, establishing new healthier habits may require more than one piece of produce a week, especially if part of the goal is to get young students to enjoy healthy vegetable items that they may not automatically gravitate to. Thus we hope when the countries implement the program they will look to create a context, such as the Food Dudes program, in which long term behavioral change is more likely. We would rather see fewer students served in a way likely to produce long term change than more students just getting a free piece of fruit that many would have eaten anyway and that does not produce long term behavioral change.

Lorelei’s concern about the devil being in the details is well taken. Much as it seems everyone wants to get bailed out now, so it won’t take long for the promotional arm of each facet of the food industry to look to get their piece of this pie. One suspects that the fresh produce industry will have to fight very hard to keep this program pure.

Yet this is all tomorrow’s problem. For today, we salute a select group of true believers in Europe and America who fight to spread good health through increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and have promoted specific policies to make that dream a reality. They have had a dream come true, and they have given the fruits of that dream to the industry… and the children of the world. A thank you is surely insufficient even if it is all we have to give.

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