SCOTTISH Borders Council’s refusal to introduce vegan lunch options in its schools left a child missing three years of free school meals.

A vegan family from the Scottish Borders first tried to acquire free school meals for their daughter in 2016, but were told by the local authority it could not provide vegan options.

And the family had to pay for packed lunches despite being entitled to free meals.

The case was picked up by Go Vegan World, an animal rights advocacy group headquartered in County Meath, Ireland, and they advocated on behalf of the family to pressure the council into providing vegan school meals.

Barbara Bolton, Go Vegan World’s in-house legal counsel, said: “I was contacted by a vegan parent in the Scottish Borders Council area who was trying to obtain vegan meals in school for her youngest child.

“She had been told by the school that this was not possible. When she contacted the council to press for vegan meals they claimed it was not possible to provide vegan meals that complied with the nutritional guidelines for school meals.

“That is quite clearly incorrect. The British Dietetic Association has long recognised that we can get all the nutrients we need on a fully plant-based diet, at every stage of life.

“If Glasgow and East Renfrewshire councils can produce vegan menus that comply with guidelines, so too can Scottish Borders Council.

“As a result of the council’s refusal, the eldest child of the vegan parent had already missed out on free school meals in P1-3.

“I wrote to Scottish Borders Council challenging their refusal to provide vegan meals, pointing out their legal obligations under human rights and equality law. That letter was sent by email on May 8.

“On May 10 the vegan parent had a call from the council advising that they would be providing vegan meals for her child from the following Monday.

“That just goes to show how quickly these situations can be resolved and vegan meals put in place when the rights of vegans are brought to the attention of government body.”

The mother of the two children, Laura, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the intervention of Go Vegan World was vital.

She said: “Although the response of the Scottish Borders Council was disappointing three years ago, we are extremely pleased with how things are now developing.

“They are trying hard to meet our daughter’s needs and are offering to have a meeting with us to discuss things further.

“Scottish Borders Council have been great and very quickly we have a vegan option for our child at her school.”

Scottish Borders Council’s schools are now able to offer meals such as vegetable pizza, with no cheese, and vegan sausages with baked beans and potato smiles.

However, Ms Bolton continued: “We shouldn’t be having to make these challenges for individual vegan families across Scotland; vegan options should be available on the standard menu every day for any child to choose, in the same way that vegan options are available in most restaurants and cafes.

“The public sector is lagging far behind the private sphere in providing for vegans, and in making good plant-based options available to everyone.

“It is essential that vegan children are able to live according to their conviction that it’s wrong to use and kill animals, including when they’re in school.

“That means food suitable for vegans must be provided. It is not acceptable that vegan children are missing out on free school meals, or that they are excluded from eating in the school canteen with their friends.

“We should be supporting children who have made a moral decision to avoid animal use and killing, recognising the impact their behaviour has on others.”  

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said: “Our schools are in a much better position to provide nutritionally balanced vegan meals than they were previously.

“For example, we can now buy things like soya milk, hummus and vegan sausages, which weren’t available on our order list even a couple of years ago.

“At no point did Scottish Borders Council say a vegan menu can’t offer vital nutrients.

“However, as we did not offer a specific vegan option, offering the child part of a meal (for example, potatoes and vegetables) would not have been nutritionally balanced and would not meet her energy requirements.”