The need to encourage us all to eat more fruit and vegetables was discussed by food and nutrition experts from the World Health Organisation, International Obesity Task Force, producer groups, politicians and officials from the EU at a meeting hosted by West Midlands MEP, Anthea McIntyre in Brussels.

The forum was arranged to explore policies that would effectively encourage greater consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and focussed on the health and economic benefits that such policies would have.

The benefits of consuming fruit and vegetables have long been recognised, and they are the only foods recommended in written dietary guidelines.  Increasing the intake of fruit and vegetables is a crucial component of a healthy diet and plays a major role in the prevention and reduction of the major economic, societal and personal costs induced by non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  Fruit and vegetable consumption, with other dietary improvements, benefits health and longevity, reduces the impact of socio-economic inequalities, lowers medical costs and is recognised by the World Bank and the European Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be crucial for optimum economic growth in Europe.

Dr. Godfrey Xuereb (WHO) noted: “It is alarming that in most EU Member States average fruit and vegetable consumption is below the minimum WHO recommendation of 400 g/day/person. Heads of State and Governments of the United Nations consider fruit and vegetable intake increase one of the challenges to be targeted by 2025.

In fact, average consumption of fruit and vegetables has fallen by the equivalent of one piece of fruit or one portion of vegetables in the last decade according to research by the European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel Europe).

Professor Philip James (International Obesity Task Force) was adamant: “It is the perfect time to change the agriculture and food policies of Europe for economic benefits, and it is all the more important to do this in the current time of economic crises when diets are often deteriorating badly.

Miss McIntyre MEP concluded: “This meeting was an excellent opportunity to raise important issues that have been highlighted in my report, The future of Europe’s horticulture sector: strategies for growth” and which are so relevant for the fruit and vegetables sector. Fruit and vegetables account for 18% of the total value of agricultural production in the EU and are produced from only 3% of cultivated land. The sector is worth more than € 50 billion, with 80 million tons produced and distributed by 550,000 employees. I am delighted that my report could be a starting point for a wider debate across Europe to make sure that we can move with a holistic approach from awareness into action.

Conservative MEPs have vowed to fight plans to give the European Union a supervisory role over a range of social issues in member states.

The proposals would see the creation a so-called Social Scoreboard, giving Brussels licence to meddle in matters such as poverty-levels, health care, benefits payments and housing policy in individual member states.

Tory MEPs voted against the plan but it was approved by a majority of the Parliament sitting in Strasbourg on Thursday.  Now an analysis of the voting shows that the motion was passed with the support of British Labour and Liberal Democrat MEPs.

Under the title "Social Dimensions of the European Monetary Union", the report by French Socialist MEP Pervenche Beres seeks to treat perceived social imbalances on the same footing as economic indicators such as gross domestic product or national debt.

It calls for the Social Scoreboard to score member states on measures such as child-poverty levels, access to healthcare, homelessness and on a so-called decent-work index.

Tellingly, although the report is presented in the context of the single currency, there is no clause exempting countries outside the Eurozone, such as the United Kingdom.

The text also makes references to a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme, suggesting a clear ambition for Brussels to control benefits payments across Europe.

Anthea McIntyre MEP, Conservative spokesman on employment and social affairs, said: "Clearly this is the Parliament manoeuvring to create a role for the EU as Europe's social conscience.

"Worse than that, they want to appropriate powers to supervise and intervene over the way member states deal with social problems. They want to set themselves up as the social police.

"Nobody is saying poverty, ill health and homelessness are not real problems in need of real solutions. What we are saying is that individual states and governments must be allowed to address them as they see fit, not according to a set of rules set down in Brussels.

"Sadly, my Labour and Liberal colleagues appear to think British voters are not responsible or compassionate enough to decide for themselves how to respond."

In a landmark vote, the European Parliament today took a major step towards scrapping the notorious Strasbourg Travelling Circus.

A plenary session of the parliament approved by 483 votes to 141 a report setting out a roadmap for reform, jointly authored by SouthWest Conservative MEP Ashley Fox.

After the vote, Mr Fox said:  "This vote is anoverwhelming endorsement of our campaign to scrap the parliament's dual seatsystem. So long as such outrageous wastefulness continues, I do not think MEPs can look voters in the eye. Today's vote is not the end of the travelling circus, but it may be the beginning of the end."

His report, drafted jointly with German Green MEP Gerald Hafner, focuses on the economic and environmental costs of the dual-seatsystem, as well as the weight of public sentiment which is deeply opposed. The present arrangement is simply unsustainable, it argues, and MEPs should beallowed to decide for themselves where the parliament sits.

Most of the European Parliament's work is done at its huge complex of offices and debating chambers in Brussels, but once a month 766 MEPs, 3,000 staff and 25 trucks carrying documents and equipment all de-camp to Strasbourg in France to sit there for three days.

A report by the Parliament Secretary General recently put the annual cost at €102 million, but Conservative MEPs say "invisible" costs such as the ongoing costs of the buildings, and money wasted on unused floor space make the true cost much higher. It also needlessly pumps 20,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

Mr Fox said: "Over the parliament's seven-year long-term budget this will in fact cost taxpayers a staggering £928 million. In hard economic times, there are so many better things that could be spent on rather than empty buildings and needless journeys."

The Conservative Employment spokesman in Europe, Anthea McIntyre MEP, has welcomed the report by the Prime Minister’s business taskforce that found that EU red-tape is costing UK firms billions of pounds.

Some of the UK's leading figures, including the bosses of Kingfisher and Diageo, presented their findings to a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday.

The prime minister said EU rules were too often a "handicap" to firms and Brussels must move "further and faster" to curb them.

“This report is very welcome because it endorses the campaign against unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy that I have been waging in Brussels,” said Miss McIntyre.

“I am particularly pleased about the report's call for the EU to adopt a version of the UK's ‘one-in, two-out rule’, where no new regulation can be adopted unless there is an equivalent reduction elsewhere.

“It is important for the EU to understand that free-enterprise creates jobs and that each unnecessary burden imposed on business simply destroys jobs. The unemployment rates in mainland Europe compared to the UK are a stark demonstration of that fact.

“Many of the report’s recommendations could be easily implemented and would provide a real boost for the millions of self-employed and very small businesses that are the life-blood of our economy.”