Processed foods eligible for EU funding under healthy eating scheme

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Processed foods eligible for EU funding under healthy eating scheme

Related tags: Member states, Nutrition, European parliament, European union

Manufacturers of processed foods containing fruit and milk are eligible for EU funding under a healthy eating programme for schools, approved by the agriculture committee yesterday, but maximum levels for salt, sugar and fat levels may be lowered by the Commission at a later date.

The deal will go before a European Parliamentary plenary session this spring and then to the Council for a first reading approval.

If approved it will see funding for milk and milk products increase by €20m to hit €100m and €150m allocated for fruit and vegetables. Funding is allocated to schools which are then free to choose their suppliers, prioritising local produce and short supply chains.

Eligible processed products will include soups, compotes, juice, yoghurts and cheese and flavoured milk drinks. Foods with added sweeteners and artificial flavour enhancers will be banned in a bid to ensure that “only products with a healthy nutritional content can be distributed”​.

The distribution of products containing added sugar, salt and fat should only be allowed “as an exception,” ​MEPs said. Such an exception could include salt in soup – but this would be permitted only after obtaining appropriate authorisation from the national authority responsible for health and nutrition. 

A contact at the European Parliament told this publication: It will be up to the Commission to define the maximum level allowed,”​ she said. “In the actual programme, the level of sugar is max 8%. This level has been fixed in 2008, but taking into account that the obesity among children increased since then, we can expect that the level of sugar allowed could be lower.”

The current text does not change the maximum levels but the Commission may change this later through a delegated act, the contact said.

Products containing cocoa, such as chocolate milk, will still be eligible under the scheme but EU funds may only be used for the milk part of the product which must make up at least 90% of the final product. This falls to 75% in the case of fruit yoghurts.

Member states are under obligation to prioritise fresh produce, but the uptake of this varies from country to country. Some member states, such as Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal allocate the funding to 100% fresh produce. For Hungary and Poland 25% goes to processed foods while in Slovakia 50% of funds go to processed food and 50% to fresh. 

Connecting children to local food production

"A healthy, balanced diet is the foundation of good health but the consumption of fruit, vegetables and milk has been declining across the EU. This is why it is of the utmost importance to strengthen the school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme by increasing its budget and making it more focused on healthy-eating education,"​ said Tarabella, who praised Parliament for ensuring the financial stability of the programme. Member states will not be able to unilaterally cut the budget or change the criteria for allocating the funds.

The legislation aims to ensure a fairer distribution between member states by weighting funding for the scheme according to the proportion of six to ten-year-old children in the population and the degree of development of the region.

Past levels of funding will also be taken into account – with a possible review after the first six years – and will be topped up with a new minimum annual amount of EU aid per child, said the agriculture committee in a statement.

But improving the health of European children should not be limited to distributing healthier foods in schools, said MEPs, and member states must do more to promote healthy eating habits, local food chains, organic farming and the fight against food waste. This could include educational measures that connect children with local food production, such as visiting local farms and trying local specialties, such as olives and honey.

The EU’s school milk scheme was set up in 1977 and the school fruit scheme in 2009 but they have thus far operated under different legal and financial arrangements. All member states take part in both schemes with the exception of the UK, Finland and Sweden, which do not participate in the fruit scheme.

The scheme is also intended to boost EU economic interests, with milk and fruit making up around 15% of the value of the EU’s agricultural output.

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