MEAT campaigners hit out at an "ill informed and ill judged" move by Edinburgh schools to enjoy vegetarian menus once a week.

Several food organisations have written to the City of Edinburgh Council over plans for ‘Meat Free Mondays’ - claiming the campaign is misleading and shows “a very serious lack of understanding of the Scottish red meat industry”.

The council has been asked to reconsider the move, which it claims will improve children’s health and help to protect the environment.

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Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) is leading the opposition to the veggie days, which are part of a campaign headed up by Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters.

Jim McLaren, chairman of QMS, said: “There is, of course, no problem with schools including meat-free meals as part of their regular range of meal choices. Our disappointment is that an organisation, particularly one linked with education, should position their decision to support a campaign with a clear anti-meat agenda.

“The council appears to have based their decision on misinformation which completely misrepresents the reality of Scottish red meat production with its high standards of animal welfare and exceptional and widely-acknowledged environmental credentials.

“An opportunity to educate and inform our urban based young people about local food production systems in Scotland has been missed by an ill informed and ill-judged decision which risks completely misleading pupils and parents.”

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The council introduced the scheme to pupils on Monday, with Royal High Primary School one of the first schools to try out the new menu which included chunky vegetable curry and Quorn dogs.

Children, Education and Families Convener, Councillor Ian Perry, said: “Encouraging healthy eating is extremely important so it’s fantastic that our primary pupils are being introduced to the benefits of eating less meat at a young age.

“By participating in Meat Free Monday schools are also raising awareness of the environmental impact of livestock production, as well as the poor standards in which some animals are farmed.”

Other signatories on the letter opposing the plans include Scotland Food & Drink, NFU Scotland, the National Sheep Association, the Scottish Beef Association, the Royal Highland Education Trust, the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Associations and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

It states that Scotland’s livestock farmers are global pioneers in quality assurance, which brings guarantees on traceability and production methods.

Mr McLaren added: “Scottish livestock farmers are rightly very proud of their role in producing top quality beef, lamb and pork in a manner which makes animal welfare a priority.

“Livestock farming in Scotland also has enviable environmental credentials.”

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QMS has invited Council officials to visit livestock farms and speak directly with producers to gain a better understanding of the production process.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said schools only use Quality Meat Scotland or Red Tractor Meat across the rest of their menus.

She added: “The schools involved have welcomed the idea of Meat Free Monday and as a Council we are looking forward to taking part. There is a growing trend for pupils choosing meat free dishes and over the past year the uptake in vegetarian meals has increased.

“This pilot scheme is due to run until for a year, and towards the end we hope to run a survey for parents to get their feedback.”