Pupils across Sussex have unknowingly been served halal meat in their school meals.
An investigation by The Argus found catering companies had been providing unlabelled halal meat to schools in Brighton and across the county.
The revelation has sparked outrage with one parent describing it as “disgusting” that they had not been made aware of what their children were eating.
Services provided unlabelled halal meat to Longhill High School in Brighton and Catering Academy has confirmed it has done the same for schools in East Sussex.
The schools in East Sussex are Peacehaven Community School, Meridian Primary School, Telscombe Cliffs Community Primary School and Peacehaven Heights Primary School.
And West Sussex County Council has stated some of the schools under its control use those caterers, though it has not confirmed which ones.
Catering Academy, based in Staffordshire, supplies the four schools in East Sussex.
Tony Cook, general manager for Catering Academy, said that the company was serving a dish containing halal meat to students without them knowing.
He said: “All of our products in East Sussex schools are non-halal except from one item on the menu, a beef burger, which appears on the menu very occasionally.
“With immediate effect, this product will be clearly marked on the menu as containing halal meat and if parents are unhappy for their children to eat this, alternatives will be available.
“In addition, we will be working with the schools on an individual basis to agree if this product should be changed.”
Halal food is food that is permissible by Islamic Law.
For a meat to be halal, it cannot be pork or a forbidden cut of meat and there are strict guidelines on how the animal must be slaughtered.
Innovate Services, the catering company that supplies Longhill and some primary schools in West Sussex, confirmed that a clerical error led to Longhill being supplied with an order of halal beef.
A representative from Innovate Services said: “We have investigated this matter with our catering team at the school and can confirm that halal meat is not on the procurement list for Longhill High School.
“From our records, however, an order of halal beef was made in error by the catering manager and we have taken steps to ensure this cannot happen again.”
Innovate Services was recently recognised at the Surrey Business Awards for its role in transforming school meals by winning the Toast of Surrey Award 2014.
A worried parent told The Argus: “It’s disgusting, no-one’s been told about it.
“I called Longhill to complain and they didn’t see what the problem was, they said that I was the first person that had complained.
“For me, this is worse than what the big supermarkets have done, it’s worse because it involves kids.”
Haydn Stride, headteacher at Longhill High School, said he was unaware of any complaint being made.
He said: “I don’t know if the meat we are serving is halal, it’s something we are investigating.”
Some halal meat is prepared by slaughtering the animal without stunning it first, causing the animal further pain.
For this reason, many people believe that it is unethical to eat halal meat.
Nicky Bassett, headteacher of Peacehaven Community School, said: “As headteacher of Peacehaven Community School my preference would be that staff and students who choose to eat meat have the right to choose meat from animals slaughtered under the most humane conditions.”
Catering Academy caters for Hastings Academy and St Leonards Academy but they have stated that they do not sell the beef burger there.
Catering at all other primary schools in East Sussex is done by Chartwells.
A spokesman from Chartwells said they have not provided halal meat unless requested.
He said: “We are committed to providing our customers with a high level of quality and choice.
“Halal products, which have been slaughtered, processed and prepared in line with the appropriate practices, are typically served in response to specific client requests and labelled accordingly.
“All of the halal meat we serve is stunned before slaughter, in line with our rigorous supply chain and animal welfare standards.”
David Bowles, head of external affairs at the RSPCA South-East, said: “The RSPCA believes that meat produced from animals stunned or not stunned before slaughter should be clearly labelled to allow consumer choice. We continue to press for changes in the law that would improve the welfare of all farm animals at the time of slaughter.
“Our concern has nothing to do with the expression of religious belief but with the practice of killing by throat cutting without pre-stunning.”
Halal meat also affects different religious groups as well as Muslims because Sikhs and Hindus cannot eat halal meat on religious grounds.
Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaign manager, said: “If schools want to accommodate religious dietary preferences, they should do so without compromising the preferences of others.
“If halal is the default option, the school should clearly communicate this to parents and pupils, so anyone wishing to avoid it can do so.”
All primary and special schools in the Brighton and Hove area are part of a local education contract, supplied by Red Tractor.
David Clarke, CEO of Red Tractor, said: “Red Tractor meat must comply with a detailed standard to ensure proper hygiene and safety and good welfare for animals on the farm, during transport from the farm, and in the processing plant.
“Red Tractor meat must be stunned before slaughter in line with all legislation, Codes of good practice and the guidelines of the Humane Slaughter Association.
“So in short, Red Tractor Meat is not halal.”
Primary schools in Brighton and Hove are given the option of having halal as an additional menu option.
These halal meals are prepared and served separately to the children who have been identified as requiring this option.
There has been a recent debate on the labelling of halal meat after it was revealed that several large chains in the country confirmed that they were selling halal meat without labelling it as halal.
MPs have recently rejected an attempt to force shops, supermarkets and anyone serving food to clearly label products containing halal or kosher meats.
“It is important to be given the information so that people can come to their own conclusions. I am really ignorant about the whole thing but I know it has been in the news recently. I don’t really have an issue but I would like to know.”
Emily James-Farley, 38, Worthing, project coordinator, mother-of-one.
“I have got absolutely no idea about it, I don’t really care. At home we always have free range and try to get organic but I haven’t really thought about it at school.” Emyln Roberts, 34, Hollingbury, health care worker. Mother of two.
“I think it is really important that everybody should be given the opportunity to have a say on it, I would definitely want to be told.
“It is the same as when you go to a supermarket and you can choose to have free range eggs or not. It is really important especially when it involves children. Parents should have the right to choose everything about their children’s lives.”
Zoe Fernay, 35, Preston Park, nurse, mother of one.
“I think it is fine but parents should be made aware. I do think parents should be actively asked whether they mind or not and informed of how it was killed.” Kate Cusack, 32, Fiveways, Full time mum of two.
“I think they should eat healthy food at school, but I don’t really know what halal meat is. I think they should tell us what is in the food. I wouldn’t want them eating something that isn’t right.” Sara Knight, 26, Patcham, full-time mum of one.