School meals row: Swinney says ‘buy local where possible’

Many Scottish councils are buying school meals food from overseas, rather than locally.  Picture: Alan Murray
Many Scottish councils are buying school meals food from overseas, rather than locally. Picture: Alan Murray
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A review of school food and drink has been launched after concerns were raised over the amount of produce bought cheaply around the world by Scottish councils.

John Swinney, Education Secretary, said he wants school food to be “sourced as locally as possible” and has asked experts from Food Standards Scotland, NHS Health Scotland and Education Scotland where provision can be improved.

The move follows a Freedom of Information study last week that revealed Scottish councils spent more than £1 million on chicken from Thailand for schools last year, with turkey, beef, ham, raspberries and mash potato also being bought from countries around the world.

The review was launched in January and a “short-life working group” has been publicised ahead of International School Meals Day on Thursday.

Mr Swinney said Scotland already has very strict regulations governing food and drink served in schools but wants to look at what more could be done.

He said: “School food matters, in terms of what children eat and what they learn about.

“With almost 366,000 school meals served up in Scottish schools every day we must ensure nutritional standards are the best they can be. I also want children, especially primary pupils, to have as many of their ‘five a day’ as they can and for food to be sourced as locally as possible.

“Since our internationally-admired school meal regulations were introduced in 2008, the scientific evidence and dietary advice has changed. Nearly a decade on, the time is right to review whether school food provision can be further improved.

“The short-life working group I have established is examining the scientific and technical detail of the latest evidence and advice regarding nutritional standards.

“Once that group reports back this summer, I will then seek the views of young people, parents, industry, catering and other stakeholder groups before taking forward any potential changes.”

Commenting on the school meals announcement, Iain Gray, MSP, Scottish Labour education spokesman said: “Diet can have a huge impact on pupils ability to learn, so it is essential they are provided with nutritious food.

“That’s why Scottish Labour believes there should be a breakfast club in every school.

“It’ll mean our children start the day with a healthy meal, that’ll help cut the attainment gap in our classrooms and inequality in our communities.