Sustainability is on the sidelines again, with the European Union cutting the budget for plant-based alternatives in schools


In early May, the European Parliament voted against including plant-based milk in the European Union's program to help children get fruit, vegetables and dairy products to school. Representatives of non-governmental organizations claim that such a decision does not allow for meeting the needs of different children and goes beyond the "Farm to Table" strategy. In some countries, plant-based milk is already provided to schools or is intended to be provided from national budgets.

The program aims to encourage children to eat healthier

According to the European Commission, the consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables and milk in the European Union falls short of international and local recommendations of member countries, and the consumption of highly processed foods rich in sugar, salt, fat and additives is on the rise. As poor nutrition and low physical activity lead to obesity problems, the European Union is taking measures to encourage children to eat healthier. For this purpose, the School Scheme was created to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables and milk and milk products in children's educational institutions.

In the final phase of the 2017-2023 program, 250 million euros were allocated annually, of which 150 million were allocated to fruits and vegetables, and the rest to the supply of dairy products. Countries participating in the program have the opportunity to redistribute the incoming budget and supply more fruits and vegetables by reducing the share of the budget allocated to dairy products, or vice versa. 

The opportunity to include more environmentally friendly alternatives has not been used 

Before the end of the current phase of the program, it was reviewed and opportunities were sought to update the program taking into account the "Farm to Table" strategy prepared by the European Union and with the aim of increasing more sustainable food consumption. In May, the European Parliament voted on the renewal of this program, which failed to include plant-based dairy alternatives for children who cannot or do not want to consume dairy products. 

According to Meda Šermukšnė, the head of Gyvi Gali, a non-governmental organization that aims to increase the availability of plant-based food in Lithuania, the members of the European Parliament missed the opportunity to show that the European Union is determined to step on the path of its set goals of stopping the climate crisis and give children the opportunity to choose. "There are many children who cannot consume cow's milk, and those who do not want to do so for ethical, environmental or health reasons. It is disappointing that such children are not offered any alternatives", says M. Šermukšnė.

It is estimated that animal breeding is one of the most polluting industries, so the passivity of European parliamentarians in order to encourage children to use more climate-friendly alternatives surprises representatives of non-governmental organizations and members of the public. 

The parties take the initiative into their own hands

Some countries are initiating or starting to provide plant-based milk alternatives from their national budgets. For example, Portugal included 5% in the program of promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables and milk and milk products in children's educational institutions. supplied plant milk. In this case, the costs to ensure the supply are not covered by the European Union funds, but by the national budget.

"With the lack of political will in the European Parliament, member states are looking for ways to ensure greater inclusion and more choices for children. We believe that the children of our country should also be introduced to and used to a more climate-friendly, ethical and healthy product. Therefore, we are considering possibilities to follow the inspiring example of Portugal", says M. Šermukšnė, head of Gyvi gali.

In Lithuania, the program has been implemented since the country joined the European Union in 2004. From 2004 to 2009, only the "Milk for Children" program was implemented in Lithuania, and from 2009, fruits and vegetables were also supplied to schools in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for this program in the country.

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