UK abstains in crucial EU food promotion vote

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Confusion reigns as to whether consumers – and farmers – in the UK will benefit from a €multi-million school dairy, fruit and vegetable promotion scheme that was recently agreed in Brussels.

The UK abstained in the vote, which was taken by EU Agriculture ministers at their April Council meeting.

The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland has told Farming Life that the UK registered a ‘no’ vote due to a technical issue around political competence.

A spokesperson added: “But the regulation was adopted nonetheless and it’s Europe wide so the scheme will be made available in the UK.”

However, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) believes this will not be the case. The hierarchy of that organisation has expressed deep disappointment that the UK abstained in the vote and, as a consequence, will not be supporting the new regulation.

According to FUW, 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.

Roberts added:“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.

Roberts continued: “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?

“UK produce should be available in our schools, hospitals, local authorities, leisure centres and nursing homes throughout the year.