EU Commissioner in favour of school fruit scheme

Photo: European Commission

EU Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel made clear in Luxembourg this week that she is in favour of a School Fruit plan that would reinforce nutrition in schools and help fight childhood obesity while also helping European fruit producers. Under the plan, the European Union would buy fruit from EU farmers which would then end up in the classroom. Children would be given soft fruit - apples or pears - free of charge. The cost of the far-reaching project so far is estimated at 200 million Euros, which would apparently be covered in part from the EU budget and in part by individual member states.

Photo: European Commission
But not everyone is backing the scheme as yet: representatives of the Czech Republic and the UK - which had a School fruit scheme in the past - this week were among the more vocal sceptics. Not just they but also others are concerned over how well the plan would work and whether it could really be implemented effectively. Tana Kralova is the spokeswoman for the Czech Agriculture Ministry:

"The Czech Republic is more in favour of a different option: we have been pushing, above all, for a long-term campaign promoting fruit and vegetable consumption. A campaign aimed mostly at youth but not just. We are concerned that the School Fruit project has a number of weak spots, from its price-tag to potential organisational problems. We think that there could be various obstacles from country to country: not all schools, for example, have cafeterias. Distribution will be complex. And what do you do during the summer when soft fruit hits its peak? Students are on holiday, so it can't get to them. Those are only a few of the problems we can see."

This week Great Britain highlighted a number of problems with its own past fruit in schools programme, where it became apparent that control mechanisms proved more expensive than agriculture subsidies. That, combined with the question of whether many students weren't just tossing the fruit when they got it, made the project too questionable an endeavour. Tana Kralova, of the Czech Agriculture Ministry points out the main focus should be in the home.

"It's not that we wouldn't want kids in class to get free fruit and vegetables. But nutrition is something, first and foremost, that starts at home. That is something that the agriculture minister has stressed over and over again; we think that should be the focus of the campaign. Such a message could be strengthened through a wider media campaign, not just of TV commercials either but also programmes in schools."

As it stands, many agriculture officials - including Czech representatives - remain unconvinced that a school fruit scheme is a step in the right direction. For now, it's "wait and see". The European Commission will put together in-depth analysis on the project in the next weeks and months, with the aim of agriculture ministers debating the subject again this coming autumn.