Harrow Council in London has provoked a storm of protest after announcing plans to prefer Islamic halal-only menus in the borough’s state primary schools.
Parents are outraged that meat prepared according to Islamic Sharia law is being pushed on non-Muslim children.
Contracts signed with the council’s preferred catering company, Harrison’s, stipulate that only halal meat is served.
The council claims the plan is needed to overcome difficulties in keeping halal meat separate from non-halal meat.
It has since said it will postpone the move because of, in part, “the level of interest from parents” and revisit the issue in the autumn.
Nine Harrow secondary schools already provide pupils with meat prepared according to Islamic law.
Primary schools would have been free to organise their school meals with another provider if they wished.
Halal meat is prepared according to Sharia law by cutting an animal’s throat while a Muslim butcher recites a religious verse.
According to the 2001 census, the religious affiliation of Harrow’s population is just under half Christian, 20 per cent Hindu, seven per cent Muslim and six per cent Jewish.
However, officials say the Muslim population has since grown in the west London borough.
Harrow resident, Sheila Murphy, blasted the council’s plan as “appalling”.
She said it is “taking away the choice of children and their parents over what meat they eat and I urge residents to make their views known to Harrow Council”.
Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, said: “It is commendable for schools to provide halal meals but there must be an alternative for non-Muslims.”
The Muslim Council of Britain said parents who wanted their children to eat halal meat “should be given the freedom and choice to do so”.
“Local authorities are under a duty to facilitate this,” a spokesman said. “Those who do not wish to consume halal should similarly be afforded the freedom and choice.”
Councillor Brian Gate of Harrow Council said: “The decision about whether to use an individual provider is for schools to make, as funding is delegated to them.
“At present we are not proceeding to roll this programme out but this is because of the cost constraints and the level of interest from parents.”