Procurement of healthy, sustainable and organic food in schools
Since 1986 and thanks to the application of specific public procurement policies and to the support of the entire chain of stakeholders (organic farmers, parents, teachers, practitioners, nutritionists, catering companies and municipalities) , the number of organic school canteens has constantly increased in Italy.
- Support organic agriculture and organic food chains, through the promotion of ecological. traditional and regional agriculture - Ensure food safety and nutritional balance, through healthy diets (particularly the ones focused on sensitive groups such as children) - Encourage good environmental performance of school meal suppliers - The improvement of school meals in Italy began in 1987 when the National Institute of Nutrition together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry set out the first guidelines for a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet is internationally recognized as one of the most efficacious for the protection of health due to its nutritional values (balanced, very varied, mostly plant-based, rich in anti-oxidants and low in high-calorie foods). - Regarding the inclusion of organic products in school meals, the determining factor was the approval, in December 1999, of Article 59 of the National Budget for the year 2000 (Law nº 488 of December 1999 on the Provisions for the preparation of the annual and pluriannual budget of the State). Article 59.4. states: “In order to ensure the promotion of organic agricultural production and quality food products, it is recommended that public institutions operating school and hospital canteens introduce typical and traditional organic products, together with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) products. The daily provision of food will be undertaken in line with the guidelines and other recommendations of the National Institute of Nutrition”. Although this budgetary provision constituted a recommendation, not a requirement, to introduce organic produce, it was nonetheless a clear political indication that marked a turning point for many local administrations, encouraging the development of a commitment to transforming school meal programmes. - Other regulations concerning the quality food produced for babies and children (Presidential decree of 7th April 1999, n.128), together with the provision of economic incentives in some regions for the promotion of organic products in school canteens, and pioneer regional laws (authorising subsidies to local councils) for the promotion of organic school canteens in many local authorities in Italy, have been key for the extension of organic food in the school system throughout Italy. Given that in Italy receiving a meal at school is considered a child's right and school lunch is part of the educational programme, some municipalities subsidise school meals. In Rome, for example families pay only 40% of the cost of the meal which is further reduced for low-income families. - The models of organic canteens in operation vary from region to region, and also within the regions themselves. Some schools offer a totally organic menu, others only offer particular products. Others again offer an organic menu once a week, or for one week in a month. The management of the canteens is also diversified. According to a Biobank survey, a majority of municipalities (67%) put the contract out to tender to catering firms, while others (18%) take direct responsibility for the running of the canteens. About 9% have adopted a system of management which is partly public and partly private. - The major reason for the success of the introduction of organic food in school canteens in Italy was the general awareness of the benefits of organic agriculture for the environment, for human health and for rural development. From the first annual survey in 1996, which was repeated until 2008, the number of school canteens and meals including (entirely or partly) organic products increased remarkably, as presented in Figure 1. In 2008, 793 organic school canteens delivered around 1 million partly or entirely organic meals each day, representing about 50 per cent of the total school meals delivered in the country (in nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools and partially junior high schools). As a consequence of this, local public administrations have become the major buyer of organic products in Italy, contributing significantly to the development of the sector. The Italian experience has shown that the introduction of organic food in school meals generates a wide range of benefits for the community: - It promotes a sustainable food system in the countryside, supporting local economies and rural development, - and at the same time it promotes healthy eating habits, thereby contributing to good health, - it also sustains a traditional food culture and increases consumer awareness of environmental issues.
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