European Parliament’s committee in favour of subsidies for the EU School Scheme

07 April 2023

Euractiv reported that a few weeks ago EU lawmakers at the agriculture committee (AGRI) overwhelmingly voted in favour of socialist Carmen Avram’s own-initiative report on the EU’s programme to subsidise fruit, vegetables, and milk in schools and public canteens.

The EU School Scheme was launched in 2017 and aims to support the distribution of selected agricultural products to schoolchildren while promoting healthy eating in public canteens.

But as part of the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork strategy, the EU executive tabled a revision of the scheme expected by the end of this year.

Avram, who took the reins of the file after her colleague Marc Tarabella was arrested by the Belgian authorities in connection with the Qatargate corruption scandal, said that she was thankful that “everybody had a clear understanding of the fact that this compromise should be beneficial to our children, and a better contribution to their well-being”.

With only two votes against – from green and left groups – MEPs called for the Commission to increase the scheme’s budget, emphasise the promotion of regional and local products, and include only ‘unprocessed’ products without added fats or sugars.

While this latter point may sound uncontroversial, it has been a point of contention as it means plant-based drinks are left off the menu.

According to the Commission’s evaluation presented last November, interest in the milk side of the scheme is declining, while one in every four citizens would like to see alternatives to cow’s milk included. 

Despite the agriculture’s executive curbing expectations of including plant-based alternatives in the scheme last year, Commission’s Wim Debeuckelaere, Head of Sector on Food Additives at Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, told EURACTIV that the school scheme “can also be used to introduce sustainability, and then it should come with alternatives”.

According to Debeuckelaere, the discussion to include alternatives for dairy products is ‘ongoing’. “It is not yet decided but why not, in fact?” he said on the sidelines of an event on the upcoming Sustainable Food Systems Law.

This has become a highly politicised topic, and divisions are not limited to the EU institutions.

EU farmers’ organisation COPA-COGECA and the European Dairy Association issued warnings about the scheme “falling into ideology” and welcomed Avram’s report.

According to the organisations, plant-based products are “not comparable in any way to dairy products” and they oppose “any nebulous wording where plant-based drinks would find an ‘escamotage’ and access to the scheme”.

The AGRI committee’s report is set to be voted in plenary in May. The resolution is not, however, binding for the EU executive, which should come with a reply to MEPs in three months.

SAFE strongly supports the vote of the AGRI committee and hopes this is a sign that children will benefit from healthy diets all around Europe. SAFE looks forward to seeing what the review of the scheme will bring.