(June 26, 1:12 p.m.) Separated by different political systems but each facing an obesity epidemic, both the U.S. and Europe are moving quickly to increase availability of fresh produce to children.

The 2008 U.S. farm bill allocated $1 billion over 10 years for expansion of the national fruit and vegetable program in schools, and now the European Commission is on track to fund a program to distribute fruits and vegetables to schools by this fall, according to Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

European Union Agriculture Commissioner Marian Fischer Boel is expected in July to announce a plan that would provide $142 million a year in funding for a program to distribute free fruits and vegetables to school children in EU member countries.

Each country would match the amount of money the EU provides, according to the plan.

Several Western European countries already have programs to distribute fruits and vegetables to school children, but countries in central and Eastern Europe generally do not, according to a June 9 report from Reuters.

One recent forum for public health and industry advocates to compare notes on the European and U.S. models for distributing fruits and vegetables at schools was the International Fruit and Vegetable Alliance’s Fruit and Vegetable Summit, May 27-30 in Paris.

Attracting 300 people from 30 countries, the summit provided a timely forum on fruit and vegetable policy possibilities, DiSogra said.

“It was exciting; all of those people coming from the produce industry, public health, programs and policy coming together for three days focused on how to increase consumption,” she said. “So much of this meeting was about the snack program and policy changes countries have been able to bring about to expand the snack program.”

Mariann Fischer-Boel, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, referred to the planned European fruit and vegetable program in a letter to summit participants.

Fischer-Boel said the program, which still faces a couple of funding hurdles, will “hopefully encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetable from an early age — a habit they would then carry into their adult lives.”

While success in Europe would tend to reinforce the success in the U.S., DiSogra said fruit and vegetable proponents can’t afford to celebrate.

“There is a lot of opportunity, but there is still a lot of work to do,” she said.

However, a positive sign is more countries are beginning to line up agriculture policies with public health policies.

A summit discussion of a government-funded promotion of fruits and vegetables in western Australia caught the attention of Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation.

The produce promotion group in western Australia saw a 19% increase in fruit and vegetable consumption with advertising paid for by government, she said.