While the BSE scare forces school cooks to tell pupils "Sorry, beefburgers are off," children at Avon Valley School are tucking in to an unlikely alternative: ostrich.
Mark Braine, headteacher of the 400-pupil grant-maintained secondary in Rugby, said the giant bird, bought in from a local farm, was placed on the menu for "general health" reasons three weeks before the start of the current mad cow disease crisis.
"Turkey and veggie burgers have become more popular, but there was still a hard core of pupils who we felt ought to be weaned off high-fat, high-cholesterol, beef burgers," he said. Ostrich is leaner and lower in cholesterol than beef, and at 70p per burger, only 10p more per serving. "The flavour is similar to beef and has gone down very well," Mr Braine said.
A beef ban is now in place at the school, but Mr Braine is aware that BSE can occur in ostrich. "We looked into that,but could find no recorded instances in UK-reared ostriches," he said.
Samantha Calvert, campaign officer for the Vegetarian Society, describes Avon Valley's example as "our worst nightmare - children giving up one kind of meat in favour of another".
The society, whose 20,000 members include about 1,000 under-16s, says 11 per cent of UK pupils have now given up red and white meat and fish.
Ms Calvert believes concern over BSE should make more schools aware of "the range of nutritious and inexpensive vegetarian dishes".
The society is about to distribute a 16-page colour booklet for 14 to 16-year-olds, which promotes ingredients such as textured soya protein, lentils and chickpeas, and offers recipes designed to suit teenagers' tastes and pockets.
Ms Calvert urged schools to consider banning foods, which may contain gelatine or animal fats that could come from beef, including yogurt and cakes. She said: "School caterers have to realise that insuring completely against the BSE risk is not just a question of taking beef off the menu."