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.