Over the next two years, school canteens will now offer pupils a menu that includes no meat, at least once a week, with data collected on the impact of the change on health, pupil numbers, and waste.
The Assembly also voted to end the use of plastic containers and single-use plastic in canteens in schools and universities.
The vegetarian “experiment” comes after 24 MPs presented the amendment bill to the Assembly, with motion leader Barbara Pompili MP (La République en Marche, LREM) particularly in favour of asking “public or private” caterers to “offer a vegetarian menu at least once a week”.
Vegetarian options could include protein from other animal products - such as dairy or eggs - as well as vegetables and grains.
Ms Pompili said that the vote in favour of the idea was a “great collective victory”, and was a step forward for the environment, health, a balanced diet, and equality.
Menu végétarien: on avance avec l'adoption de l'amendement pour un menu #végétarien hebdo dans les #cantines scolaires! Une belle victoire collective pour la #TransitionEcologique, la santé et la lutte contre les inégalités d'accès à une #alimentation saine équilibrée #EGALIM pic.twitter.com/YCtffwajjx— Barbara Pompili (@barbarapompili) September 14, 2018
The two-year experiment will allow the government and catering companies themselves to evaluate the impact the change will make on food waste, the cost of meals, and the number of pupils who take up the scheme.
The results will be reported back at least six months before the experiment is set to end.
Ms Pompili said: “We need schools to play a role in teaching children what [good] food is."
She rejected what she called “the widespread idea” that a balanced diet “must” include meat, and said that the vote reflected “a strong view from the population”, and was a step “in the right direction”.
On the subject of banning single-use plastic, she said: “This is a real step forward for public health. The goal is to protect ourselves against eventual health risks. Plastic materials can contain substances that are known to be ‘endocrine disruptors’.
“We want to introduce a ‘principle of precaution’ in the catering sector.”
But Stéphane Travert, minister for Agriculture, was against enforcing such changes by law - especially the issue of a vegetarian-only diet option.
He said: “On a social debate [such as this], I defend freedom of choice. I am not here to impose things such as this into law.”
He sought to remind caterers that they are already at liberty to serve a vegetarian menu if they so choose.
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