‘Meat free Mondays’ sparks concern about school catering deal with firm criticised by Marcus Rashford
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Anglesey Council has defended its new £8m school meals contract, which includes “meat free Mondays”, after it was called into question by local councillors and farming unions.
Since the start of the new school year, Chartwells, a company whose food parcels were criticised by England footballer Marcus Rashford, has been providing meals at both its primary and secondary schools.
Previously provided by Caterlink Ltd, the new five year contact resulted in a drop in the price of primary school lunches of 30p a day.
But one councillor and familiar face in island agricultural circles wants to call the contract into scrutiny after raising questions over the sourcing of the meat as well as the offering of a vegetarian only menu in primary schools on Mondays.
According to the authority, the terms of the contract means that at least 30% of produce has to be sourced locally with all meat being of UK origin, or Welsh where practicable.
But Cllr Peter Rogers, a farmer by trade, has pointed to agriculture’s historic and current status within the island’s local economy.
“The news that Chartwells has been awarded the contract to deliver meals to more than 9,500 pupils on the island has already raised concerns over the sourcing of their meat,” said Cllr Rogers.
“I understand there’s a stipulation that sourcing Welsh meat was a priority, but concerns have been raised over the levels of Welsh meat being sourced and the championing of a meat free day.
“I’ve now made a request for the Scrutiny Panel to examine the sourcing of the meat and if all the conditions of the contract are being met.”
Cllr Rogers concluded, “It’s all very good the Executive championing financial savings, but need reminding they need to compare ‘like for like ‘ and should be aware this is the very same company that had a highly publicised spat with Marcus Rashford.”
The company, part of the Compass Group and the biggest catering firm in the world, hit the headlines in January after being responsible for a meagre food “hamper” delivered in place of free school meals in England.
After a photograph of one of the food boxes went viral, it was later branded “unacceptable” by footballer and activist Marcus Rashford.
Chartwells later apologised for any instance where food parcels did not meet its “high standards,” adding it would ensure its lunches reflected the additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child provided by UK government.
The Farmers Union of Wales’ Executive County Officer for Anglesey, Alaw Jones, added it was “imperative for children to have a varied diet” reflecting nutritional guidelines recommended by the Eatwell Guide.
“Whilst we are not in favour or championing meat free Monday, we are more concerned about the lack of detail on Welsh food produce on these school menus,” she added.
“Red meat and dairy products are essential components in our diet and there is very little red meat on the menu, where there is meat, place of origin is not indicated.
“The food choices we make and those made on behalf of our children, are integral to health and well-being. A balanced diet is one that offers variety, nourishment and enjoyment, while remaining in harmony with the environment.
“The majority of people in the UK include animal products such as red meat and dairy in their diet, and these can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
“It’s of course disappointing that the county council here on Anglesey, where farming is a predominant industry, would chose to adopt such a menu for our schools.”
In response Anglesey’s education chief, Rhys Hughes, said that an evaulation panel including teachers, council officers and a catering consultant were involved during tendering, with councillors briefed throughout.
He added that the contract required a minimum of 30% of local produce (within a 60-mile radius), as well as the use of local Anglesey suppliers, with all meat purchased having to be of UK origin – or Welsh where practicable.
“We understand concerns regarding a meat free meal, however the menu development and recipes are based on insights gained from customers, children and their parents in Chartwells schools across the country.
“This responds to the call from younger people to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact of the food chain, also aligned to the provider’s “less but better meat” commitments to ensure we source better quality sources of protein.
“This is normal practice across the sector, and the previous provider also provided a menu with days that included meat free meals. The Authority does not market the term Meat Free Mondays.
“We are aware that Chartwells did receive some negative publicity last year, however we are confident that they have worked hard to rectify this.
“We understand the importance of supporting the farming community which is why meat will be on the menu 4 out of 5 days and the meals on a Monday will still contain produce produced by the farming community ie cheese and tomato pizzas and macaroni cheese.
“However if the menu choices are unpopular, they will be reviewed and they can be changed.”
On the Meat Free Mondays, Chartwells said, “It is important to note that we are not excluding animal products from our offer, it is about a balance and providing choice.
“There are essential nutrients that we get from animal products that we do not want to exclude.”