Municipal meat for schools?

While food retailers have been hit with scandals over horse meat in processed meals, some local councils in Sweden's central Dalarna region want to take action to make sure they know exactly what ends up in school canteens.

The head of nutrition in one of Dalarna's municipalities says to Swedish Radio News that there are good reasons for local councils to start getting into farming animals for meat. "It's important to think about what we eat, and know what it really is," says Solvei Bjur-Hedlund, at Mora municipality. And she says it can also be educational.

"Children have lost a lot of knowledge, and they hardly know where their food comes from."

Six of the municipalities in Dalarna are now looking into whether they can themselves raise animals; graze them on municipal land, send them for slaughter and serve the meat in the local schools, kindergartens and also in council-run homes for the elderly.

Solvei Bjur-Hedlund at Mora council says that the main motivation for this move are concerns over animal welfare, the environment, and a lack of trust in commercial processed meat. "It's frightening to serve people what we think is beef lasagne, only to find out it's horse meat," she says.

According to Swedish law however, municipalities may not pick and choose who they buy from - they can not stipulate that they will only buy Swedish meat, for example. So if the councils demand local production, then becoming farmers themselves may be the only solution.

One of the councillors in Mora is Anna Hed, from the traditionally agricultural Center Party. She says that the quality of produce has suffered, as costs are cut. And she says that the council farms could fill the hole made when local farms go bust: why not use animals to cut the grass and hold back the encroaching forests, instead of running machines?

The Center party is a partner in Sweden's centre-right coalition government, and has just voted to identify its politics as liberal. Does a move into council-run farming more belong to left-wing policy?

Councillor Anna Hed disagrees, saying that she sees this more as a way to support small businesses. She says that if the councils' proposal goes through, then maybe more small farmers will be able to keep going.

According to the six municipalities' plan, the raising and the slaughter of the animals would be put out to tender, as would the butchery of the meat.

At Bjäkenbacken school one of the pupils, Alexander Halvarsson, says it would be a good idea to see the animals that their meat comes from, and to know what conditions they lived under.

"I want to know if the cow was lively and could roam around a field, and not ill, or mistreated," he says to Swedish Radio News.

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