Thursday, November 20, 2008

Schools To Get Free Fruit, Vegetables From EU

“Millions of school children will receive free fruit and vegetables from next year under a scheme approved by European Union agriculture ministers on Wednesday to promote healthy eating and tackle child obesity. The scheme, authored by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, earmarks 90 million euros ($114 million) a year to help pay for and distribute fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, starting in the 2009/2010 school year. EU countries will get half their costs paid by Brussels and have to foot the bill for the other half themselves. They will be able to restrict national programmes to EU-grown fruit or import, depending on price, availability and seasonality. More economically disadvantaged areas, along with "outermost regions" such as Madeira and overseas French territories like Martinique, will get 75 percent of the bill paid by EU money. Although the scheme is voluntary, EU countries will also be able, if they wish, to require compulsory parental contributions for their national programmes, as well as add extra cash themselves from national coffers. ‘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,’ Fischer Boel said in a statement. ‘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,’ she said. Many EU countries already have fairly successful subsidised fruit and vegetable programmes in schools but others, such as in central and eastern Europe, lack such schemes. One of its main aims is to halt the EU's alarming trend in obesity, especially among children. An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight. More than 5 million of these are obese and this figure is due to rise by 400,000 every year. Most Europeans fail to meet the World Health Organisation's recommendation of 400 grams for daily fruit and vegetable consumption, with the downward trend particularly evident among the young, European Commission experts say. Greece has by far the highest daily intake of fruit and vegetables in the EU, then Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Denmark; Slovakia ranks bottom of the table, while France and the Netherlands just about reach the WHO target.”

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