EUROPEAN farm ministers met on Monday (April 11) to adopt a regulation that will promote the consumption of milk products, fruit and vegetables in schools.
Disappointingly, the UK abstained from the vote and, as a consequence, will not be supporting the new regulation.
The scheme, which has an annual budget of €250m (£201m), will see supporting countries select agricultural products to supply to schools in an attempt to promote the qualities of both local food and healthy eating habits.
“This is hugely disappointing and represents a missed opportunity for the agricultural sector. Why did the UK abstain from the vote? A scheme like this is absolutely worth supporting, especially when we take the rise in child obesity into account,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
The current school fruit and vegetables scheme and the school milk scheme, which are separate at the moment, will merge into one from August 2017 under the new plans.
“If we consider the declining consumption of milk products amongst children why wouldn’t we support such a scheme?
“It is in all of our interests to educate our young people and small children about where their food comes from and what constitutes as a healthy diet,” added Mr Roberts.
Farm visits for children is another feature of the new scheme, along with a concerted emphasis on other educational activities.
“At a time when some children think their milk comes from a bottle in the supermarket and their meat from McDonalds, surely we owe it to the next generation to facilitate educational visits?,” said Mr Roberts.
“Welsh and UK produce should be available in our schools, hospitals, local authorities, leisure centres and nursing homes throughout the year.
“Other European countries are extremely good at promoting the relationship between agriculture and food. For example, Italy is currently leading the way in Europe in improving school cafeteria standards under the “Gaining Health” program.
“Their Ministry of Health even set their own guidelines to promote a zero-mile approach, which means that schools have to source food locally. A model like this must be adopted here in the UK urgently,” added the Union President.
He added that the lack of support for this scheme confirms a key fear with regard to the lack of support for agriculture from UK government.
“As we approach the EU referendum, it has just become clearer how much support we could expect from our home government in regards to agriculture.
“If government can’t be in support of a scheme which promotes local produce, then how can we expect them to fully support our rural economies and protect domestic food security if we leave the EU?”