I hadn't planned to Blog about the horse meat scandal at all, but the comment from the Chief Executive of Iceland, Malcolm Walker, stating the problem was down to hospitals and local authorities driving out cost when negotiating contracts, certainly changed my mind.
Blaming others is shameful and not at all helpful as this is a very serious issue, and in my opinion, there should be a big debate around food and processed food. There have been some interesting articles in the newspapers and commentary on the radio, which has been helpful, but there should be more.
Convenience and ready-made food has been around for centuries, the Cornish Pasty being one example of a small amount of meat with potato and veg wrapped in pastry. It provided plenty of carbohydrates for those doing really physical work for ten or more hours a day. The important issue is that meat specified on labels is accurate and truthful.
Along with other local authorities, we do not directly provide the majority of school meals but buy, or commission, from a provider. In West Sussex, our main primary school contractors are Chartwells/Cygnet, although we do directly cater in-house for our special schools across ten sites. Around ten other primary schools use a different provider.
Over the last few years Councillors have been invited to sample these and our Meals on Wheels meals. On both occasions the meal supplied was tasty and neither too salty or sugary, and provided a balanced meal which included two of the five-a-day allocation of fruit and veg.
As a County Council we must make sure that the school meals are healthy and balanced, we do also have to consider cost when negotiating the contract as we need to ensure we get the very best value for money for our taxpayers.
When this scandal first emerged we did indeed check with our suppliers about meat content. We have been assured that due checking takes place to ensure that there are no other meats, i.e. horse, in those meals. In fact, their suppliers undergo regular independent checks to ensure strict food quality and safety standards are upheld.
Whilst I do not agree with harking back to the past, I do remember the Domestic Science Class that I and every pupil had on their timetable. Our teacher taught us about food and nutrition, and we learnt how to make cheese sauce, macaroni cheese, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese and even nut cutlets. We were taught the foundations to make a cheap nutritious meal, and I am grateful for that education.
It was recently announced that the new draft national curriculum contains proposals for primary school students to have compulsory practical lessons in how to make simple, healthy food. I think this is a really good idea as everyone should know the basics for how to cook for themselves and how to eat healthily.
26 February 2013: You can never be sure in life. At the time when I wrote this blog we had been reassured by our contractors. However, Sodexo have announced that they have withdrawn all frozen beef products nationally after some tested positive for horsemeat. Sodexo do supply a limited number of schools in the county with meals. On-going testing is taking place across the country and we are working closely with all our contractors.