Food chiefs blast Edinburgh Council over Meat Free Monday

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FED-UP farmers have hit out at plans by city chiefs for meat-free Mondays in Capital ­primary schools.

The Evening News reported yesterday how pupils will have veggie-only menus one day a week in an environmental campaign started by former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

Introducing meat free Monday in primary schools, Royal High primary school, Edinburgh.

Introducing meat free Monday in primary schools, Royal High primary school, Edinburgh.

But now the meat lobby has written to City Chambers expressing “grave concern about its apparent lack of awareness” of the positive credentials of Scottish red meat production.

“There is, of course, no problem with schools including meat-free meals as part of their regular range of meal choices,” said Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland.

“Our disappointment is that an organisation, particularly one linked with education, should position their decision to support a campaign with a clear anti-meat agenda.”

Mr McLaren also questioned council motives as apparently based on “misrepresentation” and “misinformation” of farming animal welfare.ed their decision on misinformation which completely misrepresents the reality of Scottish red meat production with its high standards of animal welfare and exceptional and widely-acknowledged environmental credentials,”

READ MORE: School lunches: All Edinburgh primary schools to partake in Meat Free Monday

Urging a rethink, he labelled council reasoning “very misleading” and displaying a “very serious” lack of understanding of the Scottish red meat industry.

“An opportunity to educate and inform our urban-based young people about local food production systems in Scotland has been missed by an ill informed and ill-judged decision which risks completely misleading pupils and parents,” added Mr McLaren.

Among the organisations supporting the £2 billion-a-year industry are Scotland Food & Drink and NFU Scotland.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said schools only use Quality Meat Scotland or Red Tractor labelled meat across the rest of their menus.

“The schools involved have welcomed the idea of Meat-Free Monday and as a council we are looking forward to taking part,” he added. “There is a growing trend for pupils choosing meat-free dishes and over the past year the uptake in vegetarian meals has increased.

“We have been working to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables pupils eat while at school and hope Meat-Free Monday contributes to our whole school approach to healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. Great work is already being undertaken within education in Edinburgh on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and by removing meat once per week we hope this will encourage pupils to try meals they wouldn’t normally.

“We have worked closely with schools and other authorities to look at dishes that work within nutritional guidance, whilst being appealing to children. This pilot scheme is due to run until for a year, and towards the end we hope to run a survey for parents to get their feedback.”

Edinburgh Nutrition dietician Emma Conroy said: “I’m all for eating vegetables if that helps introduce more children to a wider variety of meals.

“But the idea that eating meat is intrinsically unhealthy is something I disagree with. My other concern is what they’re replacing it with.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian on the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “These well-meaning efforts to cut meat intake are directed at the wrong age group and could have negative nutritional consequences.

“The latest Government diet survey shows that primary aged boys eat 46g of red meat daily while girls eat just 34g – that’s equivalent to a small matchbox size of meat! The UK recommendation is to have a red meat intake of less than 70g daily which children and teenagers are well within. In contrast, middle aged men eat 77g of red meat daily, down from 91g in 2010. It’s older men, not young children who need the ‘eat less’ messages.

“In addition, if we look at the nutrients that red meat provides – iron, zinc, iodine and B vitamins – we see that for some children these are at low levels in the diet. One in ten girls of primary school age have inadequate iron stores in the body rising to a quarter of teenage girls. The main reason is probably low dietary intakes of iron, seen in half of girls aged 11-18 years. Iron is important for oxygen supply to the muscles and brain and low levels are linked with poor concentration and shortness of breath. Around one in ten primary school children have inadequate zinc intakes, a nutrient which is vital for normal immune function.

“While it’s good to encourage children to eat more vegetables, there is no reason to restrict meat consumption in this ideological way. Young children, teenage girls and women already eat low intakes of red meat and further reductions are likely to have an adverse effect on nutrient intakes”.