Will Czechs say no to free fruit and veg in schools?

In a bid to tackle child obesity, the European Union wants to subsidise the hand-out of free fruit and vegetables in Czech schools. The system has already been tried in other EU member states, but may be rejected by Czech MPs, many of whom claim that it is up to parents, not politicians, to dictate how children eat.

I’m standing outside one of the hundreds of little fruit and vegetable shops in downtown Prague where today, in the glorious sunshine, the produce on display looks very appetizing indeed. This Wednesday, trade may be brisk, but reports suggest that more widely Czechs are not getting their five-a-day, and are getting fat. In a bid to change this, the EU has suggested handing out free fruit and vegetables to children in schools. Christian Democrat MEP Zuzana Roithová is all for the idea:

Zuzana RoithováZuzana Roithová “The World Health Organisation says that we should work towards educating people, encouraging them to up their consumption of fruit and vegetables. Children are especially important in this fight. This is the only way to lower the growing rate of obesity, because now on average every tenth child is obese. And we should do this by spending money on fruit and vegetables for children, not by spending money on adverts.”

But not everyone agrees. Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič is one of the plan’s biggest critics. He says that it is the responsibility of children’s parents, and not their schoolteachers, to ensure they have a healthy diet. His views are shared by fellow Civic Democrat, MEP Miroslav Ouzký:

“I think Minister Gandalovič is right when he says that any sort of state intervention, or any attempt by the state to take responsibility away from parents, is wrong. That should only be used as a last resort. And let’s remember that Ceausescu tried to hand out fruit and vegetables to school children in Romania. So I think the EU’s idea belongs to the category of directives which we have already lived through under communism.”

Germany is also said to be skeptical about the idea, but it is the Czech Republic alone who is on the cusp of refusing the EU’s offer of subsidized fruit and veg. Miroslav Ouzký argues that there are other, practical reasons for doing so:

“I remember as well how at break times we used to have milk wars. I worry that these milk wars will be replaced by apple wars. So the whole idea seems a bit flawed from its conception, if you ask me.”

The EU subsidies would account for only a portion of the money spent on distributing fruit and vegetables in schools – the Czech government would have to stump up the rest. And within the ruling Civic Democrats there’s a feeling that this would be money down the drain. But there are those, such as Zuzana Roithová, who fear that refusing the EU’s help with this scheme would be biting the hand that’s trying to feed.