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Get more British fruit and veg in schools to support local farmers, says Sustain

Food charity Sustain is calling on government to extend the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme to all 4.7M children in state funded primary schools to increase intake of fruit and veg and embed consumption habits. In tandem, the charity is calling on Government to support British farmers and get more locally sourced fruit and veg.

Photo from Thomas Kolnowski on unsplash

Photo from Thomas Kolnowski on unsplash
  • 193M apples and pears are paid for by the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme every year but only 13% of apples and 5% of pears are British
  • Only 1 in 5 children currently eat their 5-A-Day and children in the least affluent households tend to eat less fruit and veg
  • Sustain is calling for every child in primary school to have a free piece of fruit and veg and for produce to be sourced from British grower

Sofia Parente, Sustainable Food Places Campaigns and Policy Coordinator at Sustain says:

"This could be a win-win for the Government. Making it easier for farmers to sell their produce into schools would help support farmers through the pandemic and embed good eating habits in our children."

The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme provides a free piece of fruit or veg to 2.3M children in KS1 in 16,600 state funded primary schools in England each school day. It’s a key cornerstone in addressing historical low levels of fruit and veg intake in children. [1]

Sofia Parente continues:

We strongly support the recommendations of The National Food Strategy to address food poverty and inequality. Alongside an increase in the number of children and families eligible to free school meals, holiday programmes and Healthy Start, expanding the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme to all children in primary school would help to level off some of the inequalities in access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Ensuring every child in primary school eats one portion of fruit and vegetables would be a game changer given the low levels of fruit and veg eaten by children and would provide a safety net to complement free school meals for children in the most food insecure and lower-income households.

The scheme is worth £40M but only 30-40% of the produce is British, including only 13% of apples and 5% of pears. It’s the peak of harvest in the UK for apples, pears and other fruit and vegetables but growers are struggling with a 15% increase in labour costs due to Covid-19 issues, on top of a 34% rise in labour costs over the past five years. [2] The scheme is an ideal market for small apples and pears as they cannot go anywhere else in the marketplace and are ideal for small children. Growers complain that the scheme is too complicated for them to access and price does not cover the cost of production.

Expanding the scheme and re-specifying the contract to include British produce would increase the value of the supply contract by at least another £40M and generate additional demand for British fruit and vegetables. The scheme procures 437M pieces of fruit and vegetables and expanding it to all children in primary school would require additional 456M pieces.

Sustain is calling for five policy commitments to protect children's health and increase access to nutritious food in the Comprehensive Spending Review:

  • Invest Soft Drinks Industry Levy income spend on children’s health via a healthy food investment fund.
  • Expand the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme to all 4.7 million primary age children, sourcing high standard produce from British Farmers.
  • Increase the value of the Healthy Start Vouchers to £4.25 and extend to all pregnant women and families with under-4’s on Universal Credit.
  • Expand free school meals to all children and young people whose families are on Universal Credit or equivalent benefits, regardless of immigration status. 
  • Extend school holiday activity and food provision to all children in receipt of free school meals in England. 

[1] According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the average number of portions of fruit and vegetables eaten by children was 1.7, compared to the recommended minimum 5-A-Day. Between 2012-2016 33% of 5-10-year olds ate less than one portion, and 94% ate fewer than 3.5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Children in the least affluent households are three times as likely to eat less than one portion of fresh fruit or vegetables per day. https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Pease-Please-Veg-Facts-2020-In-Brief-spreads.pdf

[2] https://britishapplesandpears.co.uk/covid-19-adds-up-to-15-on-labour-costs/

Published 2 Oct 2020

Veg Cities: Veg Cities is a feature campaign of the Sustainable Food Cities led by food and farming charity Sustain in partnership with the wider Peas Please initiative led by the Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland, Food Cardiff and WWF.

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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