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No, Mail on Sunday, the EU is (obviously) not banning yogurt and cheese from school dinners

Friday, February 14th, 2014
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The Mail on Sunday on 9 February served its readers a headline skilfully cooked up to suggest the EU was going to ban cheese and yogurt from their kids’ school meals.

“Enjoy a yogurt at school? Hard cheese, says EU. Eurocrats want to ban snacks in healthy eating campaign”.

It went on: “Brussels bureaucrats want to stop British children being given cheese and yogurt at school.”

The paper drafted in experts to point out the blindingly obvious – that there is no danger in moderate portions of cheese.

It declined to point to another blindingly obvious fact: that “Brussels” cannot and does not want to ban British schools from serving dairy products.

By the time a few elements of reality crept into the story, it seems some readers were choking on their cornflakes with disgust at mental images of “Brussels bureaucrats” blockading school gates against yogurt lorries and depriving the nation’s youth of good old English cheddar.

One reader commented: “how did we get into a situation where unelected Eurocrats can dictate what our children eat for lunch?” Another fulminated about “faceless foreigners from the EU interfering in our lives”.

Presumably they did not get as far as the bit half way down the piece where Mail on Sunday finally lets slip that in fact this story is not about the prohibition of cheese at the school dinner table.

It is about proposals for changes to the EU School Milk and School Fruit Schemes, whereby “Brussels provides £ 8million a year for UK school breakfast clubs, morning snacks and lunch.”

A useful contribution no doubt to schoolkids’ diets, especially in disadvantaged areas, but merely a supplement to the school food provided by the UK authorities and containing just as much milk, cheese, yogurt and cream as those authorities think appropriate, without any EU involvement.

As if that were not enough, it is not even correct that the changes to the scheme will mean schools can no longer use it to provide yogurt or cheese.

The schemes were drawn-up against a background of declining consumption among children for milk and fruit and in a bid to help tackle poor nutrition.

The Commission published in complete transparency on 30 January proposals to revise the schemes and combine the milk and fruit elements to reduce red tape and make them more efficient. Those proposals will now go to Member States and the European Parliament for debate and amendment, so elected Ministers and MEPs will decide on the future of the schemes, just as they – and not “bureaucrats” – decide on all EU legislation

Under the Commission’s proposals, yogurt and cheese can still under certain circumstances be included as occasional supplements, though the scheme will focus on milk and fruit, as their consumption is continuing to decrease the most.

To underline just how much of a storm in a yogurt pot this story is, cheese and yogurt account for only a fifth of provision Europe-wide under the current milk scheme.

What is more – and this is perhaps where the Mail on Sunday story really takes the cream cracker –as far as the Commission is aware, the UK does not distribute cheese at all under the current EU scheme.

It may do so under national schemes, but those are not affected by the changes.

Of course, this type of journalism is on one level good for a laugh. On another it is pulling the wool over readers’ eyes and distorting debate.

Is the EU “denying children cancer drugs”…. or is the EU the world leader in forcing pharmaceutical companies to deliver new drugs?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
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A number of media have reported that “EU rules are denying children cancer drugs”, based on a press release by the UK’s world-renowned and hugely respected Institute of Cancer Research.

The European Commission and the European Medicines Agency are continuously seeking to do the maximum possible to encourage and stimulate research and development of appropriate medicines for children, in particular for cancer treatment.

This is a complex issue and there is without doubt a real issue for media interest here.

But some reports are a very long way from a fair representation of that issue. Most media– Metro being an honourable exception – did not even ask the Commission to give its point of view.

The EU rules are emphatically not denying children cancer drugs. Indeed they go further than any other jurisdiction in the world to force pharmaceutical companies to ensure that potential drugs are developed and tested for children.

The position of the Institute of Cancer Research and some other organisations – though some other stakeholders do not agree – is that that the rules should be implemented in a yet tougher and more prescriptive way.

So this does not fit easily into the habitual and often misleading narrative of some UK media as far as the EU is concerned.

It is not about removing EU rules that obstruct research or practitioners calling for red tape to be slashed to free up their work.

The Institute is calling for a more prescriptive application of the rules and thus for an increase in the level of EU intervention in pharmaceuticals markets.

The implication being spread by some anti-EU voices on social media that the EU is somehow obstructing the production of cancer drugs for children and that the UK could somehow do more alone than 28 Member States together to compel multinational pharmaceutical companies to perform tests is absurd.

This is the background.

The EU adopted new rules, known as the Paediatric Regulation, in 2007 to increase the number of medicines specifically tested and approved for the use in children.

This was because more than half the cancer drugs being used for children at that stage had not been tested for that purpose and there were high risks and high incidences of ineffective or harmful treatments.

As always, the new rules were not handed down from Brussels but agreed by the European Parliament and Member States, including the UK, based on extensive consultations with experts.

These EU rules were the first ever in the world to force companies to engage in a specific type of medical research and still go further than any other region in the world.

However, as with any obligation a balanced approach is necessary – in order to avoid deterring companies from performing research at all, to avoid wasting valuable research resources on work that cannot lead to a practical medical application and also to avoid unnecessary delay in introducing drugs that could save adult lives but are unsuitable for children.

So the legislation provides for exceptions for products developed for a disease or a condition which does not occur in children, such as lung cancer.

It is experts at the European Medicines Agency who decide whether or not a company can be given an exemption from testing a specific drug for use with children.

In sum, therefore, it is simply not the case that EU rules prevent research into drugs that can be used for child cancers.

The rules concerned never stop pharmaceutical companies from conducting such research: the issue is that in some cases the companies are not legally compelled to do so.

Indeed the EU supports voluntary research by providing incentives under EU rare diseases legislation, all child cancers being classified officially as rare diseases.

The EU invests overall €200 million per year in cancer research, including for child cancers, and provides regulatory incentives for pharmaceutical companies that submit new marketing authorisation applications.

The next report on the Paediatric Regulation is scheduled for 2017 and extensive prior consultation with the Institute of Cancer Research and other stakeholders – who hold a wide range of different views on this – will feed into that.

EU Court may ban smacking

Monday, June 15th, 1998
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EU meddlers ready to outlaw smacking. (The Sun, 16 June 1998, p15)

A landmark hearing in the European Court of Human Rights could outlaw corporal punishment of children by parents in Britain. (The Times, 15 June 1998, p1)

The European Court of Human Rights is not part of the European Union. It is an organ of the Council of Europe, which is an intergovernmental consultative organisation with a current membership of 41 countries. Much of its work is concerned with human rights, education, culture and co-operation in such fields as the protection of the environment, medical ethics and the fight against drugs.

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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