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Pupils’ Thai food a hot topic

Councils are facing criticism for importing meat for school meals from as far away as South America and Asia rather than buying exclusively from suppliers closer to home. Data released to The Sunday Times under freedom of information laws has shown that chicken, turkey and pork is being transported thousands of miles before being served up for pupils in this country.
It has led to calls for a more responsible sourcing of food at a local level for the benefit of the environment, with environmentalists arguing that transporting food is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Aberdeen city council disclosed that it is serving up turkey from South America, usually Brazil, and chicken from Thailand, although most of its meat comes from Scotland and England.

Renfrewshire council said it serves cooked chicken breast strips, cooked chicken fillets, cooked chicken tikka strips and cooked diced chicken from Thailand, in addition to chicken burgers from the Netherlands and pork loin steak from Spain.
Edinburgh schools also use chicken from Thailand, which supplies canteens in some private-public partnership schools with 40% of their chicken.

Tayside Contracts, a commercial trading arm of the councils of Angus, Dundee City and Perth and Kinross, said it uses cooked chicken strips, southern-fried chicken strips, breaded chicken and cooked chicken tikka strips from Thailand and pork loin steaks from the EU.

Isla O’Reilly, the Scottish Green party education spokeswoman and MSP candidate for Highlands and Islands, said: “It’s deeply concerning that we’re still seeing so much imported meat on the menu in our school canteens.
“Scottish food producers are renowned for their quality and we are missing a trick by giving away our procurement budgets to overseas operators. Most schools educate young people in the journey from field to plate so it’s hypocritical if local authorities are still sourcing from countries that often have poorer animal welfare standards.”

She added: “It also makes little sense to fly meat from the other side of the world to serve in Scottish schools when we have such excellent ingredients on our doorstep. This issue has been raised before by the Scottish Greens and I would again urge the government and local authorities to review how they award these contracts so we are supporting, not damaging Scottish farming.”

The Greens have praised the Soil Association’s Food for Life scheme, which encourages caterers in both the public and private sector to use more local, free range, fair trade and organic ingredients in their menus.
They argue that councils are under pressure to award contracts on cost rather than make choices that would have positive impacts for the local economy and animal welfare.

But Iain Waddell, managing director of Tayside Contracts, said a key issue is difficulty in obtaining cooked chicken in Scotland or the UK as a result of large supermarkets taking the bulk of the supplies.
He said Tayside Contracts aims to source food as locally as possible and has held talks with the National Farmers’ Union to try to identify ways to secure cooked chicken in this country.

Paul Godzik, education convener for City of Edinburgh council, said: “More than three million school meals are served every year, and food is sourced from a variety of places, the vast majority in Scotland and the UK.
“Edinburgh is the only local authority in Scotland where all our schools have achieved the Soil Association’s prestigious bronze Food for Life accreditation, which means we use seasonal ingredients with at least 75% being freshly prepared, and meat from farms which satisfy UK welfare standards.”

An Aberdeen city council spokesman said the vast majority of meat used in the city’s schools is sourced from UK suppliers. Renfrewshire council did not comment.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “While sourcing ingredients for school meals is a procurement matter for local authorities and caterers, the Scottish government recognises that school food expenditure has a powerful contribution to make in maintaining a secure supply chain of healthy food in Scotland, and the benefits that can bring to the economy and the environment.

“That is why we have issued national guidance that encouraged caterers and procurement specialists to collaborate early in the tender process to put in place affordable contracts which meet the nutritional requirements for school food while maximising the contribution school food expenditure makes to a thriving, Scottish food and drink industry.”

Source: - 3 January 2016