THE amount of red meat being offered to school children is being reviewed after concerns over potential health risks were raised.
Fears over the amount of processed and fresh meat being consumed by youngsters have been flagged up to Highland Council bosses.
Inverness Councillor Bet McAllister asked the council to substitute one red meat meal a week for a vegetarian option.
She raised the subject at the adult and children’s services committee, saying not only would there be health benefits by changing a meat dish for a vegetarian one, but it would be cheaper too.
Ms McAllister said she initially highlighted the issue out of a concern that some children might be eating meat up to eight times a week.
“There has been much research to show that cutting down on the amount of red meat we eat has huge health benefits,” she said.
“The school menu currently offers red meat three times a week. My point is that if kids are opting for these meals, and eating meat at home at almost every meal, then that’s probably too much.”
She said that options such as pulses should be explored.
“There has been a lot of research recently pointing out that eating too much red meat damages health and can even cause cancer – so why not get our kids into better eating habits?”
During the meeting, NHS Highland’s director of public health Margaret Somerville agreed there was scope for reducing the amount of meat.
Highland Council said it had not come to a firm decision over red meat portions, adding that it sourced its beef, lamb and pork from a local butcher.
Nutritional consultant Dr Chris Fenn said that the red meat debate was not a clear-cut issue.
“A lot of it depends on the quality of the red meat,” she said.
“If it is from a grass-fed, organically reared cow then there are many health benefits. Where the problems arise is using cheap meat which is full of growth promoters such as steroids as well as antibiotic residue.
“This is when eating lots of red meat becomes unhealthy.”
Farmer Iain Wilson, Highland manager for the the National Farmers Union, insisted good quality red meat played a big part in the balanced diet that youngsters needed and warned that cutting meat from lunchtime menus would be dispiriting for the area’s livestock breeders.
He added: “I think it would be disappointing, especially as the council has been so supportive up to now as they are one of the only local authorities using locally sourced produce.
“A lot of people are struggling for money and the meat served at schools could be giving the children who get free meals a meal of nutritional value if their parents can’t feed them at home.”
A Highland Council spokesperson said: “No decision has been made by The Highland Council to reduce the amount of red meat being supplied in Highland Schools.
“We need to continue to provide the highest quality product that will enable us to meet legislative requirements on the nutritional contents of school meals.”