The now four year old school fruit scheme survives for a new period. Twenty four member states have decided to participate in 2012/2013. Sweden, Finland and the UK have opted out once again.
By Jakob Chor
Money has, again, been set aside to support the intake of fruit amongst school children in the entire EU – almost.
In Randers, Denmark, the scheme is an integrated part of the daily food and health plan that addresses issues such as bad nutrition for school children.
The school, Vesterbakkeskolen, is a municipality school that has selected to participate in the school fruit scheme. According to Vivi Høyer, principal at the school, the scheme is a good way of branding them as a healthy school.
“This fit in to our nutrition plan for the kids. We want to be a healthy school, and the scheme allows us to reach that goal,” she says.
In Denmark, 375 schools out of 2300 schools participate in the scheme or are suitable for receiving the support.
The scheme was meant to be implemented as a permanent part of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). However the scheme was only prolonged for another year – and not all countries participate. About 500 million Euros are given to agricultural programs, such as School Milk, Social Support, or free meat for socially deprived persons in the EU.
A Danish idea
In 2009, former Danish commissionaire for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel with a big smile presented the scheme as a great way of dealing with the bad nutrition in schools all over Europe.
“This will be a major contribution to encourage our young people to eat more of these healthy and tasty products,” she said back then.
The background for the scheme is to be found in the obesity epidemic in Europe. With over five million obese children in 2006 in the EU-25 it was obvious that action was needed. Since then, the European Commission has started several schemes that should address the problem.
90 million Euros were marked for the scheme in order to help the flow of fruit running in schools. In detail each member states gets costs to certain products covered. The Food Ministry in the member state collects information on how many schools that are interested in the scheme.
This information is then forwarded to the Agricultural and Rural Development secretary under the European Commission for reimbursement.
However, an auditor report from October 2011 sows doubt on the fruit scheme. Only 35 percent of the 90 million Euros has actually reached its targets namely fruit for the school children.
There are two reasons for that. Countries volunteer in the program and the money set aside for each member state is not necessarily spent.
Agriculture or scheme
MEP’s admit that the schemes are conducted in order to subsidize farmers in Europe. According to Dan Jørgensen, MEP in the Party of European Socialist (S&D), the scheme is an indirect support to European farmers.
“It is clear that scheme is agricultural subsidies. It is however just a small thing in the big picture”, he says.
That statement is confirmed by Emilie Turunen member of the Green Party in the parliament. Although both groups support the agricultural support they do not think this scheme is adequate and relevant in addressing the obesity issue and unhealthy intake of food amongst youngsters in the EU.
James Nicholson a third term member of the parliament for the EPP group disagrees.
“I think this is a good initiative in order to assure health and good nutrition for kids in Europe. And then it is good for farmers across Europe,” he says.
And exactly EU farmers benefit from the scheme. Technical requirements make it difficult for fruit suppliers outside the EU to deliver fruit for the scheme.
Fruit is healthy, scheme is unhealthy
It is not the first time schemes are discussed. Since early 90s a school milk scheme was introduced and in 2007 it was made a permanent part of the EU-budget. In 2010 and 2011 the European Commission handed out free meals for poor people in all of EU. It was under huge controversy as countries, including Denmark, tried to block the decision. Denmark and other nations implied that it wasn’t an EU matter, arguing that it is the member states responsibility to provide for the poor.
The European Commission has conducted an investigation on how the different projects work and as of that they have appointed an expert committee on school fruit. Bent Egberg Mikkelsen, nutrition expert from Aalborg University, is a part of that committee.
In his opinion, school fruits are a very good way of giving kids a healthy snack in the schools. He knows that there are problems and he would rather see kids eat the fruit as a daily routine without a scheme.
“The scheme is a great opportunity for the member states to actually put healthy nutrition on the agenda. However it should be there already,” he says.
School fruit on the abstract
Back in the parliament, the three MEPs agree that school fruit is only a little thing of a bigger package it isn’t a topic that needs attention.
“Come on. Why care about school fruit? Sometimes things are too small to talk about”, Emilie Turunen says.
But according to Sine Nørholm Just, professor and expert on intercultural communication and the future of the EU, that is a dangerous path to follow.
“The debate will be on certain over-themes but the debate about the things that construct the EU will disappear,” she says.
According to her it could leave a democratic deficit because certain EU issues are more complex and cannot be taken out of the EU-debate under the excuse of “being a part of package”.
“The point is that it removes the focus from what the EU actually does. Instead of discussing agricultural politics we discuss school fruit. Instead of discussing cohesion funds, we discuss youth initiatives,” she says.
The school fruit scheme is prolonged until 2013. The auditor report in 2011 said that less than 15 percent of the fruit was actually handed out as an EU-project. The school fruit program exists because of parental support or government programs. EU covers about 50-75 percent of the expenditure. The rest is covered by parents and member state programs.
An evaluation from 1999 on these sorts of programs taking its starting point in school milk suggests that the milk program should be terminated immediately. But for now the school fruit scheme survives.