The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS), currently supplies fruit and vegetables to 2.3 million children in state-funded primary schools in England. With the SFVS due to be updated, Sustain is calling on the government to expand the scheme to all 4.7 million state-funded primary school children and prioritise seasonal, British, environmentally friendly produce.
Fruit and vegetables for all primary school children
The SFVS, has been proven to increase fruit consumption among participating children. However, this positive impact diminishes after children have left year 2 and no longer have access to free fruit and vegetables during school hours. By extending the scheme up to year 6, healthier eating habits will have longer to embed and thus persist as children leave primary school.
With a staggering 80% of children not meeting the 5 A DAY target, the need for expanding the reach of the scheme has never been more important. However, it's not just quantity which needs to change, it's quality too.
The hidden costs of global sourcing
A Freedom of Information request from Sustain revealed that a significant portion of the scheme's produce is imported. Shockingly, only half of the apples come from the UK, and none of the pears nor tomatoes are homegrown. Notably absent are other UK-grown varieties which would be suited to the scheme like podded peas, tender stem broccoli, and radishes.
Sourcing fruits and vegetables abroad might seem cost-effective, but according to a report by the Soil Association it leads to produce that is not just cheaper but often of lower quality and lacking in flavour and texture. This raises a critical concern: is the scheme's sub-par produce inadvertently discouraging some children from embracing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables? The potential health risks associated with sourcing fruits and vegetables abroad further intensify the concern around whether the scheme is fit for purpose, with a previous report revealing that pesticide residues in SFVS fruits exceed those found in the UK's supermarkets.
Farmers on the brink - public procurement as a tool to help farming
While we grapple with these questions, British farmers face unprecedented challenges. Rising input costs and stringent demands from retailers paint a dire picture. With 49% of fruit and vegetable farmers fearing business closure within the next 12 months, the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme could be a lifeline for the struggling sector.
The House of Lords report on horticulture underscores a lack of cross-departmental collaboration. Expanding the SFVS presents a unique opportunity to remedy this, simultaneously improving children's diets and supporting British farmers.
By prioritising a higher percentage of produce being from seasonal, home-grown produce - the farming industry could be supported while more children could be fed fresh, delicious, and seasonal home grown fruit and vegetables.
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Join the cause: key demands
- Expand the SFVS to cover all 4.7 million state-funded primary school children.
- Embrace dynamic procurement to favour local producers.
- Prioritise domestically produced seasonal fruit and vegetables whenever possible.
- Raise procurement standards to minimum L.E.A.F or organic certifications whenever possible.
Published Monday 4 December 2023
Sustain: Sustain The alliance for better food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity.
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Will joined as Sustainable Farming Campaign Coordinator at Sustain in September 2023, and has a background in implementing Agroecological farming methods and managing vineyards in Somerset. Outside of his farming expertise, Will has previously worked on issues surrounding food poverty, having coordinated food bank collection campaigns in Bristol and near Manchester. Will is a dedicated advocate for nature friendly farming and fairness across the entirety of the food supply chain.
Sustainable Farming Coordinator
Sustainable Farming Campaign
Communications & Learning Coordinator
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