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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » March 31, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Fruit in Schools
March 31, 2011   
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Almost 800,000 Polish children are given free fruit and vegetables in school as part of the EU School Fruit Scheme designed to encourage healthy eating habits in early childhood to prevent excess weight and obesity in European children.

The European Commission launched the new EU School Fruit Scheme under the Common Agricultural Policy in the 2009/2010 school year. EU funds account for 75 percent of the financing while the remaining 25 percent comes from national budgets. In the 2010/2011 school year, the program’s budget totals 12.3 million euros.

In Poland, the target group of the EU School Fruit Scheme are elementary school students in grades one to three. The program seeks to trigger a long-lasting change in the eating habits of children and adolescents by increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in their daily diet. The program also involves educational activities in elementary schools to promote healthy food.

Dietitians and food experts prize fruit for the high content of vitamins, mineral salts and fiber. Fruit usually contains 80-90 percent of water and a small amount of fat (0.1-0.3 percent).

The amount of carbohydrate in fruit ranges between 3 and 18 percent and the content of dietary fiber between 0.3 and 5.6 percent. Most fruit is rich in vitamin C and pro-vitamin A, but has low B-group vitamin content. There is no vitamin D in fruit.

Children covered by the EU School Fruit Scheme are given fresh fruit, including apples, pears and strawberries, fresh vegetables (carrots, sweet peppers, radish), fruit and vegetable juice and mixed fruit-and-vegetable beverages. Such products cannot contain any added fat, salt, sugar and sweeteners. Each child receives one piece of fruit and one vegetable product at a time. In the second term of this school year, children taking part in the program will receive a total of 20 portions of fruit and vegetables over a period of 10 weeks.

According to the Agricultural Market Agency, Polish elementary schools have signed a total of 8,600 contracts with suppliers on free deliveries of fruit and vegetables. The number of contracts and statements from schools included in the program indicate that the number of first, second and third graders receiving fruit and vegetables during the second term is over 790,000. This is 67.8 percent of all children in the target group.

Still, the EU School Fruit Scheme has not proved highly popular everywhere so far and so it was recently debated by the European Parliament’s agriculture committee. The EU earmarked 90 million euros for the program in the 2009/2010 school year, but only a third of the amount was spent. Some EU member states decided to stay out of the program because of difficulties in finding money for co-financing. In Germany, for example, 16 Länder (regions) were interested in the program, but only seven chose to participate because the other ones could not find sufficient funds. Members of the European Parliament also point to excessive red tape as a major obstacle. Applying to take part in the program took a lot of effort from applicants, as did the program itself and inspections. The European Commission introduced strict procedures to make sure taxpayers’ money did not go to waste. The procedures are now being reviewed and simplified.

Similar problems were encountered when the EU School Milk Scheme, designed to encourage consumption of milk by children, was being launched in member states. Poland launched its “Glass of Milk” program in 2004, but it really took off in 2007 thanks to co-financing from the national budget. This school year, the Agricultural Market Agency has zl.118 million to spend on the program using funds from the national budget, while EU funding totals around zl.50 million. The Dairy Sector Promotion Fund will contribute another zl.5 million. In total, this year the Glass of Milk program will cost around zl.173 million. In previous years, dairy products were delivered to schools five times a week. Last school year, the program was carried out in over 17,000 educational establishments, mostly elementary schools, but also junior high schools and preschools. A total of 2.8 million children took part in it.
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