The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme could get a multimillion pound boost from Brussels in an effort to stamp out child obesity.
EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told journalists last week she was considering spending up to €50m (£34m) per year on an EU-wide scheme to provide fruit and veg for four to 12-year olds.
If the Department of Health got involved, it would massively expand England's current scheme, which is only available for four-to-six-year-old children in LEA-maintained schools. "National authorities in each member country would be free to decide whether or not they wanted to participate and what they wanted to give out," said European Commission agriculture spokesman Michael Mann. "They may decide they don't want to take part at all or they may want to give out just apples."
Fischer Boel said she expected an EU-wide scheme to cost about €100m a year, with the EU budget picking up half the tab and the rest co-financed by member states. Money for the scheme, which would begin to come through in January 2008, would be diverted from the EU's €1.5bn-a-year fruit and veg support regime.
"We are trying to get rid of all old-fashioned market support measures for the processing of fruit and veg, which will mean money for more forward-looking modern-type measures," said Mann.
The EU scheme could be run in parallel with or replace existing national schemes in member countries, he said. "Things are still in the planning stage, but there has been a groundswell of opinion that it would be a good thing to do."
The proposal was welcomed by Fresh Produce Consortium chief executive Nigel Jenney. "We were actively involved in promoting and developing the scheme here, and if there is further funding available, that should provide an opportunity to develop it through a broader range of age groups," he said.