New figures from the fresh produce organisation Freshfel Europe reveal that British consumers ate 1% more fruit in 2008 compared with the previous five-year average, but vegetable consumption plummeted 11%.
Overall European fruit consumption fell 1% in the period, with veg consumption declining a hefty 14%. Europeans ate an average of 199kg of fruit and veg per person in 2008, an 8% drop.
The figures come as a further blow to the government, which has ploughed vast sums of money into promoting 5-a-day, Change4Life, the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme and other initiatives. The Department of Health has put £3.3m into the 5-a-day campaign alone in the past four years, according to a spokeswoman.
In a report into the success of the Change4Life campaign earlier this year, the government revealed that awareness of the 5-a-day message had actually fallen from 80% in January 2009 to 73% in December.
"It's disappointing to see further confirmation that we continue to fail as a nation to enjoy a healthy diet," said Fresh Produce Consortium chief executive Nigel Jenney. "The fresh produce industry recognises the challenges it faces and it's vital that we focus efforts on generic campaigns to encourage people of all ages to eat fresh fruit and veg, irrespective of origin. The UK government's 5-a-day programme needs to put greater emphasis on eating fresh rather than suggesting that highly processed food can be an acceptable alternative for healthy eating."
In October, Defra Secretary Hilary Benn set up a joint government and industry taskforce to produce an action plan to increase domestic fruit and veg production and fight obesity. The new figures were released as a new study cast doubt over the cancer-preventing credentials of eating five portions of fruit and veg a day.