Tories wary over poor-value food giveaway

28-May-2015 @ 9:30

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Conservative MEPs last night voted against proposals to spend millions more taxpayers' money on an inefficient scheme that sends free fruit, vegetables and milk to schools outside Britain.

The programme was established in the days of EU milk lakes and food mountains as a way of usefully getting rid of tons of produce that would otherwise go to waste.

But when the surpluses stopped, the EU instead began buying fruit and vegetables on the open market to keep the scheme going.

Today MEPs are voting on a proposed overhaul to the programme which would see an extra €20 million a year spent on milk distribution. It would also set a compulsory proportion of the scheme's overall budget to be spent on education about food and healthy eating.

The UK is one of three EU countries that opts out of the school fruit scheme and it applies the school milk scheme only in Northern Ireland. Instead the UK runs its own healthy eating programmes in schools.

Conservative Agriculture spokesman Richard Ashworth said:  "Nobody is denying the benefits of fresh fruit, vegetables and milk to school-age children. We agree with promoting healthy eating generally, but we object to this EU scheme on several grounds.

"For a start of this is simply not an area the EU should be concerning itself with.  It needs to be looking at the bigger picture of competitiveness, jobs and growth and leave projects like this – worthy as they may be – to member states or regional and local government.

"Secondly the EU's Court of Auditors has repeatedly criticised this scheme for its inefficiency and poor value.

"Finally, this is not a proper use of Common Agricultural Policy spending. That budget is already stretched and this is not the type of thing it was intended for.

"Getting fruit and milk into schools may be a good thing, but the EU are the wrong people to be doing it."

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