The new nutrient-based standards for school dinners are a "complete waste of time, effort and money" and should be scrapped, a leading nutrition expert has warned.
Speaking at a Local Authority Caterers Association event at the Brakes Innovation Centre in London yesterday, Dr Verner Wheelock argued the new law was fundamentally flawed and unnecessary.
He questioned the legitimacy of the data the standards are based on - from which intake levels for nutrients such as iron and zinc have been set for school dinners in England - due to age and a relatively small sample size.
Wheelock, the former head of the food policy unit at the University Bradford, also questioned the belief that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to nutrition could succeed in improving the diets of the nation's school children.
This, explained Wheelock, was due to natural food variance, differing cooking techniques and the fact that available food calorie reference guides used to entry data into the analysis software are approximations themselves.
"The idea that you can go to a book and get the information you require to meet the nutrient standards is ludicrous," he said.
"The only way to get reliable information about the food you are using is to take a sample of it, which is logistically impossible and far too expensive to do. This is a complete waste of time, effort and money and the law] should be repealed."
Michael Nelson, head of research at the School Food Trust, disagreed and said the nutrient-based standards were "absolutely necessary" as they alone tackled health issues such as pupils' salt intake, as well as limiting calories in a bid to halt rising childhood obesity.
The nutritent standards, which came in to force at primary schools in England this September, set out clear rules on both the composition and nutritional value of school dinners over a three-week menu cycle. They supersede the interim food-based standards introduced in 2006.
By Chris Druce
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