School caterers yesterday demanded that the new nutritional-based standards for food, due come into force at secondary schools in England next September, be drastically changed or scrapped.
At the Local Authority Caterers Association's (LACA) annual conference at the Hilton Metropole hotel at Birmingham's NEC, the 500-plus delegates vented their frustrations with the new rules, which come into force at primaries this September.
In an electronic vote at the conference, 88% of delegates said it would be impossible to produce popular meals for secondary school children based on the nutritional standards.
Caterers fear pupils will instead continue to vote with their feet. Because many secondary schools serve light bites centred around "grazing" rather than a single sit-down meal as at primaries, caterers warned that compliance with mineral and vitamin targets would be extremely tough.
The warning came in the week the latest School Food Trust (SFT) and LACA school survey revealed a further fall in meal uptake at secondary school level, down 0.5% to a record low of 37.2%.
Patricia Fellows, a school meals consultant and former LACA chairman, has been looking at implementation of the nutrient-based standards for three years.
"The time and expertise required to produce suitable menus is huge, the cost significant and the measurement involved flawed," she said. "Surely the existing food standards and decent education should be enough to influence our secondary children to eat healthier."
The development threatens to create a rift with Government-backed body the SFT, whose chief executive Judy Hargadon ruled out any backtracking.
"Food-based standards do not handle the issues of high salt and fat, which are health risks," she said. "We will not recommend that we go back to food-based standards. We believe schools can do it, should do it and that we'll keep helping them do it."
By Chris Druce
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