EU states may help fund health drive

MAINZ, Germany – Only Greece and Italy at present among EU countries reach the World Health Organization’s recommendation of an average consumption of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day – while Britain, Ireland and Sweden have the EU’s lowest daily per capita intake, Europe’s farm chief said on Sunday. «Only two countries are fulfilling the 400 grams a day requirement,» EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said. «We should try to encourage other member states to reach the same level.» EU countries may have to dip into national coffers to help finance a school fruit scheme similar to that in place for milk, as part of a drive to combat obesity among children, added the commissioner. Earlier this year, Fischer Boel had unveiled plans to overhaul the EU’s vast fruit and vegetable industry, revising or scrapping many of the annual 1.5 billion euros of subsidies paid to farmers. As part of the negotiations that EU governments will hold on her reform plan, due for next month, Fischer Boel will propose using EU subsidies to distribute fruit in schools as part of a compromise reform deal. But EU countries would have to help. «The only outstanding thing at this stage is the financing and I am exploring whether we can find some money outside the fruit and vegetable reform budget,» she told reporters on the margins of an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers. «We might need around -100 million a year and I think we need to co-finance it so member states would have to participate,» she said, adding that could mean up that to half the cash needed to be match-funded from national coffers. Children targeted under the scheme would probably range from 4 to 12 years, she said, although added that this was not yet finalized and might move to 5 to 13 years. Milk is given to schoolchildren in a similar EU-funded scheme. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, estimates that up to 27 percent of men and 38 percent of women are now considered to be obese. The problem is worst in southern countries, as traditionally healthy Mediterranean diets give way to processed foods rich in fat, sugar and salt – although Poland and Britain have also seen steep rises in child obesity in recent years.