The Soil Association has called on the government to fix the School Fruit and Veg Scheme, claiming that the £40m-plus spent on the scheme each year is teaching children to dislike fruit and vegetables and that the scheme is “broken”.
In its State of the Nation report, the Soil Association accuses the scheme of providing low quality produce to the 4-6-year-olds who are entitled to it, meaning the scheme is counter-productive.
Freedom of Information requests submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care also reveal that a low proportion of the fruit and veg is British, with only 13% of apples and 5% of pears are sourced from this country.
“This State of the Nation report from Food for Life reveals the true face of children’s food in England,” said Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association. “It shows that while there has been some positive progress this year, there is still a long way to go until a balanced diet of fresh and minimally processed food is the norm for children in this country.
“The School Fruit and Veg Scheme is broken. Not only is the produce often lacking in freshness and of low quality, but data shows that the produce contains higher pesticide residues than equivalent produce found on supermarket shelves, including pesticides associated with a negative effect upon children’s cognitive development.”
The organisation is calling on the government to re-specify the scheme so that a higher proportion of the produce is British, local and organic, and therefore fresher, of known provenance, containing lower pesticide residues, and more enjoyable for children.
Other recommendations in the report calls for the safeguarding of school meals to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ by ringfencing Universal Infant Free School Meal budgets.