Meat Free Monday’s founders Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney are joining calls to scrap the bizarre and outmoded rule that schools in England must dish up meat to pupils on most days of the week.
The school food standards, which apply to all maintained schools, as well as academies that were founded before 2010 and after June 2014, stipulate that children across the country must be served a portion of meat or poultry three days a week, oily fish at least once every three weeks, and dairy from Monday to Friday, setting a dietary pattern for adult life.
The rules are currently under review, however, and a new campaign, launched today by the animal rights organisation PETA is pushing for more flexible nutritional guidelines to be adopted instead. Rather than building schools meals around meat and dairy, the campaign is calling for schools to be given more choice about what pupils eat, and for planet-friendly plant-based food to be given more prominence – in line with the government’s own advice that it can meet all Britons’ nutritional needs.
“As long as the mandatory animal-derived food servings remain in the standards, caterers are restricted in meeting the demand for sustainable, healthy meals,” said PETA’s Carys Bennett. “Government guidelines should certainly not require schools to offer foods that are wrecking the climate and fuelling the childhood obesity crisis.”
The campaign has kicked off with a joint letter to Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, organised by PETA and signed by the McCartneys on behalf of MFM, as well as Green MP Caroline Lucas, Greenpeace, Veganuary, Compassion in World Farming and many more. Schools and hospitals are already well ahead of government in terms of their commitment to healthier and greener grub: last month their caterers signed up to the #20percentlessmeat pledge, to cut the amount of meat they serve by 20 per cent.
“The school food standards are unnecessarily restrictive,” the letter says. “So long as nutritional needs are met, individual school caterers should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to include meat and dairy in their menus.” Pointing out that a fifth of children in the UK are obese by the time they leave primary school, something a plant-based diet has the power to counteract, it adds: “It’s unreasonable to require that schools regularly serve meat, fish, and dairy, foods which are high in cholesterol and saturated fat and some of which, including red and processed meats, are known carcinogens.”
Schools should have the option, it continues, “to reduce or eliminate foods that contribute to poor health and the climate crisis while ensuring they can deliver varied menus that meet the needs of their students.” And the students are already on board with prospective changes to their diets: research commissioned last year by Linda McCartney Foods found that 7 out of 10 pupils want more vegetarian and vegan school meals.
“No one needs to eat meat, so it shouldn’t be mandatory to serve it in schools,” said Paul, Mary and Stella. “It’s time to revise the school food standards to help the planet, spare the animals and promote healthy eating.”