Are schools becoming EU supermarkets?

September 25, 2014

Belgian chocolates / Flickr / eltpics / CC BY-NC 2.0

Belgian chocolate, soon to be on the daily menus of school children?

Following the decision by Brussels to expand its milk and fruit distribution programme in European schools, some EU members are trying to broaden the scope of products proposed to pupils. It?s the latest twist in long-running saga of the EU stepping into the daily lives of Europeans, with some countries now using the opportunity to promote their own national specialities such as Spanish olive oil, French cheese or Bulgarian yoghurt. Will these products also soon be distributed in schools? And could the health of children be undermined by economic interests?

While health is important, ?this is not the EU?s job,? explained Pieter Cleppe, head of the Brussels office at the eurosceptic Open Europe think tank. He said that healthy food standards should be decided upon at a national level.

?Taking care of the health of children is clearly incredibly important, but this is not the job of the European Union. Because the job of the EU is to remove barriers between countries,? he argued. ?It doesn?t have any legitimacy to micromanage things like health care standards or labour standards.?

Cleppe also explained that this should not be a priority for the EU which, according to him, already has invested too much money in the school fruit distribution programme, the School Fruit Scheme (SFS).

In June, the European Commission decided to increase the SFS budget by an extra 60 million euros, from 90 million euros to 150 million euros, for the 2014-2015 school year.

Economic interest more important than children?s health?

But according to Pauline Constant, communications officer for food and health issues at the European consumer organization (BEUC), the idea of distributing other healthy products to children and thereby allowing them to discover other European products is a good one.

However, she warned that promotion may not be put ahead of children?s health and, as Germany stressed during the Special Committee on Agriculture on September 15, strict nutritive criteria have to be taken into consideration.

?It?s important to promote local food and cultural food, but it?s important as well to open up the mind of the little children and to taste some other food, especially if they are good in terms of nutrition,? she said. ?The economic interest shouldn?t suppress the health aspect of the food given to children in schools.?

In addition, Constant stressed that these other products, such as cheese, olive oil or yoghurt, should not replace fruits and vegetables. She pointed out that the consumptions level of fruits and vegetables are already far too low in some EU member states.

She explained that, for example in the Netherlands, only 1 to 2 percent of young people aged between 11 and 15 years eat five pieces of fruit and vegetable a day.

Even chocolate ?

When looking at the product suggestion list, it?s clear that some of proposals could be considered to be too salty, and thus unhealthy if eaten in large quantities ? cheese, for example.

Surprisingly, chocolate is not on the list ? or rather not yet, as Belgium could come up with it in the future, arguing its nutritional benefits. Constant points out that children need to have diverse types of food, but in reasonable quantities. So even Belgian chocolate can be good, she stressed.

?The Belgian chocolate can be healthy because there are some good aspects of it, but again it?s a question of quantity,? she explained. ?Eaten in small amounts, then there is no problem.?

That sounds fair enough, but the questions remains how a mix of chocolate, olive oil and cheese, in addition to fruits and vegetables, could suit basic health standards.

BEUC also supports the European Commission?s plan to develop ?best practice guidelines? for school food policies in Europe. While waiting for these guidelines, the EC published earlier this year a mapping of European school food policies in the 28 member states ? see the report here (PDF file).

  • Author: Laeticia Markakis
Suggested Euranet Plus article

read the text Read the report

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