PARENTS’ groups have called for a crackdown on the use of processed meat in schools following the launch of a campaign by The Herald on Sunday.

Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said that children do not deserve “chemical-laden” food to be served at lunchtimes.

Eileen Prior, executive director of parents’ organisation Connect, questioned why processed meats are still being provided at all in a school setting.

This newspaper last week urged the Scottish Government to rid school dinners and hospital food of nitrites, a preservative which is linked to bowel cancer.

A majority of councils and NHS boards use nitro-meat and opposition politicians have called on the Scottish Government to intervene.

SNP ministers are considering strengthening the national guidance on nutrition in school meals, plans that will include a limit for processed meat.

Speaking on behalf of Connect, which used to be the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, Prior said that parents are concerned about the nutrition and quality of school meals.

“Healthy eating is essential to learning, concentration, brain development, good eating habits for life and wellbeing – surely giving children school meals of the highest quality and nutritional value is the best investment we can make? This means serving fresh, not processed, food,” she said.

“As well as nitrites, processed meat such as ham, sausages or pepperoni also contain high levels of salt and fat. It is surprising, given the salt and fat limits with which school meals must comply, that processed meat or food is still on school menus. Adults are now being urged to reduce their consumption of processed meats – why are children still being given these foods in school?

Murphy, whose organisation provides a parental perspective at a local and national level, said:

“All parents would welcome their child being provided with healthy, filling, nutritious meals. School meals are, for some young people, their main (and in some cases, only) meal of the day, so it needs to be good quality.

“Our most disadvantaged children are entitled to a free school meal and deserve not to have chemical laden food. But any cost increase incurred could not be passed on to the pupils and their families, as school meals currently remain reasonable value for money and should not, through cost, become a luxury.”

Professor Bob Steele, one of Scotland’s experts on bowel cancer, said: “Our view is that while nitrates represent one possible mechanism whereby processed meats are associated with increased cancer risk, the most important action would be for schools to ensure that all processed meats are kept to a minimum, if served at all, and their use in school meals should be carefully monitored.”

Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, a group set up to promote wellbeing, is also critical of the use of processed meat in hospitals.

“It is indisputably one of the vital issues of our day to raise awareness of the cancer-causing and disease hazards of consuming processed meats: health service leaders and government need to take a lead to get these food risks removed from our hospitals.

“Places which are dedicated to healing and health education should not be serving foods that are known to be detrimental to health.

It added: “We see it as a dereliction of collective health professional responsibilities if red processed meat continues to be served in our hospitals to patients, staff and visitors”.

Professor Annie Anderson, a professor of public health nutrition and medical adviser for Bowel Cancer UK, also commented: “The research linking processed and red meat, such as bacon, ham, salami, and some sausages to bowel cancer has been emerging for over ten years, and there is some evidence about the role that nitrites may potentially play in this risk.

“A few simple changes to your lifestyle can help stack the odds against bowel cancer. As well as avoiding processed meats, limiting our intake of red meat, keeping a healthy body weight and alcohol intake low as well maximising physical activity.”