EUROPE – European parliament has faced backlash for voting against including plant-based milk in the bloc’s Farm to School Scheme that supports the distribution of milk, fruit & vegetables to millions of children, from nursery to secondary school, across the EU.

The move has been reported to be a significant blow to the dairy industry stakeholders who have been accused of causing assault on European diets.

According to a report by food awareness organization ProVeg International, the majority of Members of the European Parliament failed to include plant-based drinks within their initial report on the EU School Scheme.

“We are very disappointed by the outcome of this vote, but we are hopeful that the European Commission will still move ahead and include plant-based drinks in the scheme as part of their review, which is out at the end of the year,” ProVeg International, said.

It noted that the vote’s result may be due to existing misconceptions around plant-based milk alternatives that the products are not local to the EU, they are processed products or they do not contribute to the nutrition of kids.

“We have done extensive research in all these fields and we can confidently say that plant-based milk alternatives crops are grown in their majority in EU soil,” ProVeg stated.

“Fortified unsweetened drinks are a perfect nutritious alternative to dairy and they are processed foods, like most foods that mean, they need processing, as dairy does.” 

The organization added that most children in the EU cannot or do not want to drink cow’s milk for medical, ethical, taste, or environmental reasons.

“Including fortified plant-based milk alternatives is essential in terms of inclusion, availability, sustainability, and affordability.”

ProVeg emphasized the EP vote is non-binding and that it is only an opinion the European Commission (EC) can choose to take on board.

The food awareness organization now calls upon the EC to bring about change and introduce unsweetened fortified plant-based alternatives to milk to the scheme.

In addition, this inclusion will go in line with the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy and bring about coherence to the overall sustainability policies in the agri-food sector.

Funded through the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), the EU budget for the school scheme was set at US$300 million per school year from 2017-2023.

The funding was distributed among member states according to the number of pupils and the degree of regional development but only reached 16 out of the EU’s 76 million students.

According to the Food Climate Research Network report, the scheme has the potential to become the EU public procurement tool for the inclusion of sustainable and environmentally friendly products for children across Europe.

The scheme’s inclusion of plant-based drinks could boost EU efforts towards more sustainable diets, in alignment with the Food Systems Framework initiative, EU’s legislative framework for sustainable food systems.

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