In order to teach the children at Peasenhall Primary School about sustainable meat sources and the welfare of food animals, students have been allowed to rear three piglets in the school grounds. Despite the school’s good intentions, it has come up against criticism from the animal campaign group Colchester Animal Defenders (CAD).
The campaign group has online petitions against the school, which say children should not be subject to something like this and that "it would be much better for the children to grow vegetables and be taught about animal sentience".
While other media reports have said the school has been bombarded by abusive phone calls and emails and threats from as far as Australia, which led to the police being called.
The school’s head teacher Kath Cook told MeatInfo.co.uk that the project stemmed from the school’s work with the company Cook With Me Kids. She said the school had been doing lots of work about the origins of fruit and vegetables already, and meat production felt like the next step, since it already has a vegetable patch.
"The children all talk about the pigs – they are not rearing them as pets and they know what’s going to happen to them," she said.
According to Cook, the school has approached meat-eating with an open mind and the children have discussed vegetarianism and veganism. "We have done this to educate the children that, if you are going to eat meat – and some may not want to and that’s fine – they should be looking at locally sourced meat and something with higher welfare," Cook said.
The children, aged five to 11, built an eco-friendly sty and pen for the Berkshire-Gloucester Old Spot cross piglets and prepare their food every day. They do not touch the animals and the pigs have not been named, despite claims that they had been named Ham, Bacon and Pork.
One petition against the project published on the Care2 petition site said: "It seems wrong to teach the children to love an innocent being, but not make the connection that it must have it throat slit and bleed out so it can be chopped up into pieces to make the meat they will eat. To then get the children to give these creatures the sick names of the meat they will be cut into is macabre and disgusting."
MeatInfo.co.uk tried to contact CAD spokeswoman Liza Moore, but was met with hostility.
Despite issues with the project from CAD, Peasenhall’s activity was given support from the Schools Commissioner for England and Wales Elizabeth Sidwell.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated conversation, a spokesperson from the Department of Education told MeatInfo.co.uk: "For the first time ever, we are making cookery a compulsory part of the curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 3. The new design and technology curriculum is about giving pupils the knowledge needed for their daily lives, and teachers will have the freedom to explain elements of food production.
"Given the obesity issues that face our children today, it is vital they know as much as possible about healthy eating and what constitutes a balanced diet. By bringing this into the curriculum, we want to encourage children to develop a love of food and cooking that will stay with them as they grow up."