Beef ban may be unhealthy

Mince, stews and casseroles can provide the shot of iron that teenage girls need to counter high levels of anaemia, the Meat and Livestock Commission Scotland has recommended. As Stirling this week was set to join the growing list of authorities reintroducing beef to school dinner menus, Alistair Donaldson, the commission's general manager, appealed for beef to be given its rightful place in the balanced diets of teenagers.

Mr Donaldson said the trend towards vegetarianism among teenage girls was worrying. "There is a real anaemic problem there and beef is one of the best sources of iron," he said Recent market research has shown that 10 per cent of boys and 11 per cent of girls aged 7-11 avoid red meat but among the 11-17 age group figures rise to 11 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls.

A survey for the Vegetarian Society carried out earlier this year reveals that four out of 10 children aged 4-11 had struck beef off the menu.

Mr Donaldson said the commission had impressed on local authorities that beef was "totally safe". Around 12 councils had banned beef after the BSE crisis, he said.

Stirling's children's committee, yesterday (Thursday), was set to back a beef recall, provided there is a choice of non-beef alternatives. The ban led to a 15 per cent fall in the number of secondary school dinners.

Mr Donaldson believed pupils in several parts of Scotland had opted to visit burger vans parked outside playgrounds after beef was removed from dinner menus. The Stirling report confirms that its catering division takes a similar view.

Around 75 per cent of Stirling parents of primary and secondary pupils support the return of prime cuts but remain split on beefburgers and pies, according to a survey carried out in June. Just under 60 per cent of parents of primary children and 54 per cent of secondary parents do not want burgers and pies back.

"General public opinion remains cautious," the council advises. It has been assured by its meat supplier of improved quality assurance systems for guaranteeing sources of beef.

Meanwhile, the vegetarian lobby reports that eating meat is going out of fashion. A food company survey shows 8 million people in Britain no longer eat red meat.

Eighteen per cent of women avoid it and the most dramatic decline in meat eating is among women aged 16-24. One in five cites concern about BSE.

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