EU healthy eating funding discriminates against plant proteins: ENSA

"[The scheme] completely excludes healthy and resource-efficient plant-based drinks which have a lower total sugar content than milk,” said ENSA. © iStock

The EU is discriminating against soy and plant-based proteins that are nutritionally similar – or even healthier – than the sugary dairy products it has pledged to subsidise, says the European Natural Soy and Plant-Based Foods Manufacturers Association (ENSA).  

The trade group said today it regretted the European Parliament’s decision to adopt “an incomplete report” on the aid scheme which subsidises the supply of fruit, vegetables and dairy products in schools across the EU.

Approved by Parliament last week, the law merges previously separate EU school milk and fruit schemes and boosts their combined annual budget by €20m to €250m a year. €100m has been allocated for the milk programme, which includes processed dairy products such as fruit yoghurts and chocolate milk.

The British industry group Dairy UK welcomed the prominence given to dairy products with chief executive, Dr Judith Bryans, saying Parliament had quite rightly put milk at the core of the EU’s health agenda.

But ENSA says the move "promotes discrimination" against products that are as nutritious as dairy and serve the same needs, namely plant-based proteins.

ENSA president Koen Bouckaert told FoodNavigator including soy-based drinks in the scheme along with dairy would ensure a level playing field.   

"The scheme has a very strong educational component and this is what ENSA would like to contribute to in order to make sure that children and their parents are made aware of the health and environmental benefits of soy and plant-based foods. Additionally, including soy-based drinks in the scheme together with dairy would ensure a level playing field between foods with similar use and nutritional value," he said. 

A statement issued yesterday by the association drew attention to the higher levels of sugar in dairy products. 

“It [the scheme] allows the distribution of processed foods and flavoured dairy products with added sugars but completely excludes healthy and resource-efficient plant-based drinks which have a lower total sugar content than milk,it said.

"The total sugar content of a chocolate-flavoured dairy milk is approximately 11 g/100 ml, as compared to the total sugar content of a chocolate-flavoured soy drink which is 7.5 g /100 ml. This decision contradicts the current efforts of the European Commission and member states to curb the excessive sugar intake of the European population in order to reduce obesity." 

A report publish last year by the UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended that no more than 5% of people’s daily energy intake should come from added sugar or ‘free sugars’, but this does not include sugars naturally present in milk.

Meanwhile the eligibility of processed foods with added sugar for funding has been criticised by members of the Dutch Presidency.

Under the terms of the scheme, EU countries must prioritise fresh produce over processed foods, but the uptake of this varies from country to country. Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal allocate 100% of the money they receive to fresh produce but in Hungary and Poland 25% goes to processed foods, rising to 50% in Slovakia.

Dutch minister for agriculture Martijn van Dam was reported in Dutch media as calling the decision to allow taxpayers’ money to subsidise drinks that contain as much sugar as cola “irresponsible”.

If approved by the Council, the rules will come into effect in August 2017.

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