Hundreds of UK schools have banned pork sausages and bacon and switched to halal only meat for meals even where Muslims are in the minority.
Many families of other faiths and none have been angered and upset by the move which has often been done by schools and councils with little or no consultation.
At least two dinner ladies have been sacked in the last year after serving non-halal food to Muslim students by accident.
By contrast, dinner ladies in hundreds of schools are expected to serve halal meat to primary and secondary school age pupils every day of the week whether they are Muslim or not.
The driving force appears to be cost because it is far easier and cheaper to have a single source of halal meat for everyone, rather than having to provide a segregated menu.
In most cases the halal meat served in schools will come from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter, which welfare experts say is the minimum required to minimise suffering.
The concern among non-Muslim parents is that it is not clear which schools are using halal only meat. Separately, a move to halal only meat means children have no choice but to eat it or switch to a vegetarian option.
This is a particular worry for the Sikh community who refuse to eat halal meat on religious grounds.
A spokesman for the Sikh Council UK said: ‘We are concerned that many schools, councils and other public sector bodies and their caterers are effectively allowed to deceive the public by providing halal meat without declaring it as such.
‘Public sector bodies have a duty to the entire community and should be accommodating for all needs without fear or favour.’
He said: ‘Everybody has a right to purchase and consume food in accordance with their religious or other beliefs and food should be clearly labelled to allow individuals to make an informed choice.
‘All foodstuffs using or containing halal meat and any derived products from halal meat should be clearly labelled as halal. Certified halal meat products should be provided and be available for the benefit of the Muslim community where required.
‘All consumers should have the confidence that foodstuffs that are not labelled as halal are in fact halal free. It should be a duty of trading standard officers to enforce effective and clear labelling on all food.’
In March, parents in Rotherham condemned a school’s decision to ban all pork products from the menu and replace other meats with halal versions.
The change means pupils aged 3-11 at Brinsworth Manor Infant and Junior Schools in Rotherham – which Ofsted identifies as having only a small number of pupils from minority ethnic groups – will no longer be able to enjoy sausages, bacon or ham.
Parents at both schools, which share a site, were told of the decision in a letter from Rotherham Council’s catering officer, who wrote that there had been ‘minor adjustments’ to the lunch menu.
Although just 20 per cent of the school’s 600 pupils are Muslim the menu changes were reportedly brought in to make the school more inclusive.
A mother with an 11-year-old girl at the school, who asked not to be named for fear of being branded racist, said: ‘At home I pay more for organic and free range food. I am a Christian but I don’t do it because of that, it’s more for the respect of how animals are killed.
‘The way the animals are slaughtered for halal meat is a religious killing and I don’t feel it should be in schools.
‘My daughter has been anxious about the change as she has concerns about if it is humane killing. I believe in animal welfare rights and standards of meat production that halal does not follow.’
The change in policy was agreed by the head teacher and governors as part of a policy to make the meals more inclusive.
This same scenario is understood to have been played out in hundreds of schools across the country over the past five years.
While schools are going to extraordinary lengths to protect the interests of Muslim pupils, there is no such support for others who may not want to eat halal for various reasons.
Dinner lady Alison Waldock, aged 51, was fired for gross misconduct last year from a Cambridge school after she mistakenly gave non-halal food to a seven year-old girl.
The girl’s parents complained with the result she lost her job after 11 years with the catering company involved.
In February last year, it emerged that a dinner lady at a multi-faith school in Moseley, Birmingham, was sacked after she accidentally served non-Halal meat to Muslims. Moseley School has a policy of serving halal-only meat to all 1,400 students, regardless of their faith.
The change to halal seems to have been encouraged and organised by local councils, however the Local Government Association, which speaks for them, denied responsibility. It said each school has responsibility for a decision on whether or not to switch to halal only meat.
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