20th May 2019

EU to fight bad diets with free fruit

The EU could soon be footing the bill for the free distribution of fruit and vegetables to schools, holiday camps and charities, as the European Commission combines an overhaul of the fruit and vegetable sector with its fight against obesity.

A draft proposal to be adopted today (24 January) aims to revamp the rules on EU subsidies for the sector which currently accounts for 3.1 percent of the EU budget and around a fifth of the bloc's total agricultural production.

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At the heart of the plan is a shift from supporting farmers according to how much they produce to payments based on the size of their land and some other criteria, in line with the overall reform of the hugely criticised common agriculture policy.

But the package also includes measures aimed at promoting a healthy diet, by promising farmers a 100 percent reimbursement for fruit and vegetables delivered for free to charities, school canteens or children's holiday camps.

The commission is suggesting cutting by half EU funds currently provided to farmers for withdrawing perishable products from the market if they are not selling well. But if they are earmarked for free distribution, Brussels will pay the whole bill.

The EU executive points to the fact that Europeans lag behind the World Health Organisation's recommendation for a minimum daily intake of 400g of fruit and vegetables.

Only the Greeks and Finns stand out consuming 500g per day while other countries' citizens eat well under the suggested amount with the Brits and Austrians averaging 200g.

Under Wednesday's draft plan, the EU will also cover 60 percent of the costs for producers' initiatives aimed at promoting the consumption of fruit and vegetables by children under 18 years of age.

Wide overhaul recommended

The fruit and vegetables' reform envisages more EU cash - at least 20 percent - to be used by farmers for improving environment standards and a reduction in export subsidies as their impact has decreased, according to the commission.

In a publication to outline the plan, farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel says the sector is "under pressure" from both retailers and discount chains and from third country imports.

"Our ability to tackle these challenges is not helped by the high level of producer fragmentation", she argues.

Her new scheme wants to introduce less bureaucratic procedures for setting up funds to help farmers facing competition.

The reform is likely to be closely watched in Spain and Greece where the fruit and vegetables sector represents around 30 percent of the whole agriculture production, while in Italy, Malta and Portugal it covers about a quarter of the output.

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