EU backs free fruit and veg for school children

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Free fruit and vegetables could be on the lunch menu for tens of thousands of children after plans were unveiled for farmers to be paid in full by the EU to give surplus produce to schools, hospitals or holiday camps.

The move, announced yesterday as part of a shake-up of the Common Agricultural Policy, comes amid mounting concern over bulging waistlines. Across Europe, the daily intake of healthy food falls below the internationally recommended minimum in all but two of the EU's 27 nations.

The proposals, which need to be approved by governments, also includes plans for advertising campaigns designed to encourage children to eat more healthily to qualify for a 60 per cent contribution from the EU budget in future.

The European agriculture commissioner, Marianne Fischer Boel, said that, among Europeans, only Italians and Greeks achieved the World Health Organisation recommended average daily consumption of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables.

She argued: "Fruit and vegetables can play a key role in a healthy diet. Regrettably, every day we see increasing evidence of a growing problem of obesity, particularly among the young. That is why we need to redouble our efforts to stimulate consumption."

The European Commission says that it has more than £4m to spend on promotions aimed at school-age children - and a further £5.5m towards the cost of free distribution of fruit and vegetables to schools, hospitals and charities.

Farmers will be paid in full for produce delivered free to schools, holiday camps, hospitals, charities, jails and old people's homes.

To help fund this, the Commission is suggesting cutting EU funds currently provided to farmers for withdrawing perishable products from the market if they are not selling well.

More broadly, the plan would mirror changes to the rest of the CAP by breaking the link between the amount farmers produce and the subsidy they receive from the EU.

Yesterday's package would revise or scrap many of the annual £1bn of subsidies paid to fruit and vegetable farmers.