Preliminary findings from a European Commission consultation on the EU School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme indicate 72 per cent of respondents back plant-based milks being introduced as an option in schools.
The scheme, which benefits over 20 million children across Europe, has the potential to become a flagship initiative for the inclusion of sustainable and environmentally friendly products for children across Europe. Incorporating plant-based milks into the school scheme will show that the EU really wants to offer greater choice to children who are unable, or unwilling, to consume dairy milk and are seeking out a healthy, climate-friendly and ethical alternative.
Results from the consultation which were presented at a conference in Brussels, are expected to influence the scope of a Commission proposal that is due for publication early in 2023.
Earlier this year, ProVeg raised a petition calling for the inclusion of calcium-fortified, unsweetened plant-based milk into the scheme, which 75,000 people have since signed.
Lucia Hortelano, the organisation’s EU Policy Manager, says: “We are really delighted by the outcome of the consultation which made overwhelmingly clear that plant-based milks have a place in the EU School Scheme.
“The conference also made several references to the need to transition to a more sustainable scheme, and we believe that the introduction of plant-based milks should be one of the solutions.
“We already knew that a lot of people were in favour of including plant-based milks in the EU scheme but the results of the public consultation shows that the vast majority of people in the EU wants this too.
“Unsweetened, calcium-enriched plant-based milks offer children greater choice of what they can drink at school mealtimes, allowing those with allergies and intolerances to feel included. Some children are also concerned about animal welfare and with plant milk, these concerns are not raised.
Both the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy and the Beating Cancer plan mention the importance of moving to a more plant-based diet
“Both the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy and the Beating Cancer plan mention the importance of moving to a more plant-based diet , and this includes plant-based alternatives to conventional dairy products.”
Other NGOs are also celebrating the outcome of the public consultation, with Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU, adding: “These are excellent results that must pave the trajectory of the EU scheme funding school meals. It is high time schools start a meaningful transition towards healthier and more sustainable diets, engraining good habits early on in younger generations. Children should have better access to plant-based foods – including fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based milk, legumes, nuts and grains.”
ProVeg International says it is also aware of the untapped potential the proposal can have for farmers in the European Union and how growing environmental constraints are becoming a major threat to traditional farming livelihoods. It believes farmers have an important role to play in the just transition towards alternative-protein production and the school scheme broadening its products can play a key role in this transition.
Following the outcome of the consultation, ProVeg says it will continue working with policymakers and the wider public to fill any knowledge gaps that might arise on the inclusion of more plant-based products into the school scheme.
Hortelano adds: “We think it is important to inform people more about how these products. Moreover, we will continue to highlight how plant-based milks also have the added attraction of being both climate-friendly and animal-friendly – two factors that the EU is keen to incorporate in its programmes.”