EU's School Milk Scheme, School Fruit Scheme largely ineffective, has very little impact, says European Court of Auditors

LUXEMBOURG , October 24, 2011 (press release) – The European Union’s School Milk Scheme (SMS) and School Fruit Scheme (SFS) aim to encourage children to eat healthily by consuming dairy products and fruit and vegetables, and to contribute to improving the market for these products. The SMS has made grants available to Member States since 1977 for the sale of reduced rate milk products to school children, while free distribution under the SFS has started much more recently in the 2009/2010 school year. The EU now earmarks an annual budget of € 180 million for those two schemes.

This European Court of Auditors’ (ECA) performance audit assessed the effectiveness of the two schemes, notably assessing whether the EU subsidies have a direct impact on the beneficiaries' consumption and if the schemes are likely to meet their educational objectives and influence future eating habits.

The audit concluded that the Milk Scheme is largely ineffective and has very little impact, as

It is affected by very significant deadweight, i.e. the subsidised products, in most cases, would have been included in canteen meals or bought by the beneficiaries without the subsidy. This effect is enhanced by the lack of a mechanism for targeting priority needs.

The stated educational goals are insufficiently taken into account in the design and implementation of the scheme.

Although it is too early to conclude on the effectiveness of the School Fruit Scheme, its design gives it a better chance to achieve its objectives. Some solutions employed for the Fruit Scheme could be considered as possible ways to improve the effectiveness of the Milk Scheme.

The ECA makes a series of recommendations, especially for the SMS. If this scheme is to be continued, thorough reforms will be needed to remedy the weaknesses identified. The model of distribution outside canteens and free of charge should be considered, targeting a population to be determined in relation to actual nutritional needs. The role and importance of the accompanying educational measures should be assessed. There should also be greater coordination and synergy between the two schemes to ensure that they have a harmonised approach to nutrition and are managed efficiently.

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