THE GOVERNMENT is not doing enough to encourage schools to offer only sustainable fish. And according to marine conservation and health groups this is “threatening the ability of children to feed themselves in the future with heart and brain-healthy fish”.
Schools spend £43 million on fish every year, and national healthy food standards for schools include fish at least once a week for primary schools, and twice a week for secondary schools.
However, the government has so far failed to adopt mandatory sustainable fish standards for school meals. Some caterers have put in place their own schemes to source only sustainable fish – Sodexo currently offers sustainable fish to more than one million of its customers, for example. But, to encourage wider take-up, mandatory standards are required, said campaign group Sustain.
“At the moment, nine in every 10 schoolchildren are likely to be served fish from fisheries that are in a dire state, caught in ways that kill wildlife,” said Emily Howgate, who runs the Sustainable Fish City campaign that is calling for strict conservation standards for all fish served in schools.
All fish served in Government departments, the armed forces and prisons should now come from sustainable sources through mandatory Government Buying Standards. However, these don’t currently extend to schools. “Even Number 10’s Larry the Cat is likely to be eating sustainable fish, but not the nation’s schoolchildren,” Howgate claimed.
Howgate said the education secretary Michael Gove is setting a “terrible example to children, whose future food supply depends on good management of fisheries right now”.
The criticisms of Gove’s inaction came in a Sustainable Fish in Schools submission to the Department for Education’s current School Food Review. The submission provides evidence that sustainable fish has been simple, achievable and affordable for the 14% of schools that already serve and promote Marine Stewardship Council verifiably sustainable wild-caught fish. The submission also states that without a national, legally binding standard for sustainable fish in schools, the remaining 86% of schools are unlikely to be able to play their part in saving the world’s fish stocks. This is due to lack of time, expertise and access to low-cost buying arrangements such as collaborative and local authority catering contracts that embed robust fish sustainability criteria as standard.
The claims come just a few days after the launch of the ‘Save our Seas’ campaign as part of the new series of Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4.