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French schools' meat-free menu for Covid rules 'insulting'

The meals have been introduced to help school staff in Lyon respect health measures local authorities say, but ministers and farmers are unhappy

School children in Lyon will eat meat-free meals at lunchtime from today for “health reasons” during the Covid-19 epidemic, local Mayor Grégory Doucet said.

Local authorities said that introducing the temporary no-meat menus - which still include eggs and fish - will help staff and students comply with social distancing measures. 

Stéphanie Léger, deputy mayor for education in Lyon, said: “The new health protocol means people must maintain a distance of two metres from each other in school cafeterias. The menu will allow us to speed up meal service and, as such, accommodate all students.” 

The measure means that students will be offered a single menu in schools instead of having a choice between different dishes. 

In a statement, the mairie said: “If we factor in food intolerances, allergies, children who don’t eat pork, menus without meat are the least restrictive.”

Senior politicians disagree

But senior members of government are upset with the decision. 

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter that the new menu was “an unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers”.

Referencing the fact that the mayor of Lyon is a member of the French ecological party Europe Écologie Les Verts, he continued: “We can clearly see that morality politics and elitism of the ‘greens’ excludes the working classes. 

“Many children often only eat meat in the school cafeteria.”

Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie added: “Stop putting ideology on our children’s plates! Just give them what they need to grow. Meat is part of that.”

Mr Denormandie said he had contacted the prefecture in Rhône to discuss the issue.

But the mayor responded that neither of the senior politicians had complained when no meat menus were introduced from May-July 2020, nor when former mayor of Lyon Gérard Collomb introduced the same measure during the first wave of the Covid crisis. 

Mr Collomb was a member of LLRM, the same political party as Mr Darmanin and Mr Denormandie.

Local farmers to protest today

Now, local farming unions have also joined together to protest the new menus.

In a statement, unions FDSEA and JA said: “Enough is enough!”

Union representatives have called for a meeting with the mayor, and for union members to join a wider protest today, in which a mini farm and a meat tasting event will be set up outside the mayor’s office in Lyon.

They said the menus discriminate against children who only have access to eating meat in school cafeterias.

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