Contract caterers have hit back at suggestions by Jamie Oliver that standards will be allowed to slip in academies, where the nutritional guidelines are not mandatory.
The celebrity chef stepped up the second wave of his school meals campaign last week by slamming Education Secretary Michael Gove for "eroding" nutritional standards.
He said the Government's decision not to make nutritional standards mandatory in free schools and academies would be a disaster, echoing the views of LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association).
"It's very simple. The private companies come in; they're incentivised by profit," he argued. "If the standards aren't there they can sell a whole genre of new stuff, going back to the stuff I was fighting seven years ago."
But caterers, while in the main supportive of a level playing field in which all schools are subject to the same rules, say it would not be in their interests to lower standards in order to make a fast profit.
Simon James, managing director of school caterer Eden Foodservice, insisted that not only have caterers embraced the guidelines but to ditch them even in some schools would be damaging.
He said: "We don't want to put the reputation of our company on the line in order to improve profitability. We don't want to be highlighted as effectively using the loophole of the academy status, because that view would be applied to our whole business model."
David Weller, managing director of Alliance in Partnership, agreed, adding: "As private caterers it is wrong to pigeonhole us as profit-driven organisations that would risk the health of pupils to make more money."
Private contractors remain adamant that in today's more health-conscious Britain, there will never be a return to the days of the heavily criticised Turkey Twizzlers because, according to Martin, chief executive of Innovate Services, attitudes have significantly changed among not only school staff and operators, but also students themselves.
Sodexo's managing director for education Jane Bristow shared this view: "It's an easy statement to make that without legislation everything will go backwards, but I haven't seen any evidence of that," she said.
John Bennett, chief operations officer for Holroyd Howe and Caterlink, added: "Whether the guidelines should be mandatory in all schools, I don't know. But I would say academies should stick to the rules just like anybody else."
By Janie Stamford
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