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This just in from today's Irish Times (www.ireland.com)

EU's free fruit and vegetable sceme to start next year
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MinisterService for family who died in air crashSEÁN Mac CONNELL, Agriculture
CorrespondentTHE €90 million EU free fruit and vegetable scheme for schools
received the support of farm ministers in Luxembourg yesterday and will be
implemented next year.

Modelled on the Irish Food Board's "food dude" scheme, the European Commission
pledged the money to fight obesity in Europe, where 22 million children are
deemed overweight and five million suffer from obesity.

The commission said in July it would pay for the purchase and distribution of
fresh fruit and vegetables to schools, which would be matched by national
funds in those member states that chose to make use of the programme.

Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith pledged his support for the scheme. He
said the experience in Ireland with the scheme, on which the EU programme is
based, had been very positive.

He said that the Irish Food Board's scheme encouraged primary schoolchildren
to taste and enjoy fruit and vegetables and it would have reached 1,000
primary schools by the end of 2008.

"Our policies have consistently supported balanced diets. Low intakes of fruit
and vegetables and milk by primary schoolchildren were established in a
scientific study on children's diet carried out by Trinity and UCC with
funding from my department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

"These findings have been addressed by the relaunch of the school milk scheme
with a wider range of products and the scaling up of the fruit and vegetable
scheme from pilot status," Mr Smith added.

In 2006, the then minister for agriculture Mary Coughlan announced the
distribution of 1,000 refrigeration units free to schools to boost the
dramatic drop in the free school milk scheme.

When the school milk scheme was introduced in 1982, children in Irish schools
drank 2.6 million gallons of milk, but by 2006, consumption had declined to
only 825,000 gallons, a fall of 66 per cent. Under the revised scheme, 500
fridges went to schools that were already operating the scheme and the 500
others to schools that were opting to join the scheme

Research had shown children were unhappy with the temperature at which milk
was served in schools and many favoured fizzy soft drinks. The revamped
scheme, which is being operated by the National Dairy Council, is now
providing not only milk but other products like yogurts, low-fat and flavoured
milks.

The free fruit and vegetable scheme will run alongside the revitalised milk
scheme which has been operating in 2,000 primary schools with the support of
the EU and the Department of Agriculture.

The farm ministers have been meeting in Luxembourg over the past two days to
negotiate the "health check" of the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap), which
will involve tighter budgetary controls and a redistribution of Cap funds.

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