The new standards, announced by the Department of Education and Skills (DfES), mean primary school children will get at least two red meat-based meals a week with secondary school children receiving three. Further meals can be served containing red meat products such as quality burgers and sausages.
Richard Lowe, MLC consumer affairs director, said: "We have worked closely with the DfES on these new standards and are extremely pleased that both red meat and meat products will be extensively featured on school menus in the future... The emphasis will be on high- quality meat for school meals and that means meat produced under a quality assurance scheme such as those run by the English Beef and Lamb Executive and the British Pig Executive (BPEX)."
Robin Tapper, head of food and farming for the National Farmers Union, said: "This is very good news - it's good for the children and good for farmers who can supply this important market."
Foodservice trade manager for BPEX, Tony Goodger, said processed products such as burgers and sausages would no longer be classed as red meat, but would instead be seen as 'treat' meals to be served occasionally.
The government's restructuring of school meals follows a campaign led by celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, who criticised food and drink served in schools across the country, including Bernard Matthews' Turkey Twizzlers. A spokesman for Bernard Matthews said: "We constantly review and develop our products to ensure they respond to regulations in force and consumer trends. Our range of foodservice products meets the new school meal requirements and we are fully committed to ensuring that all our future products do so."
Hugh Judd, foodservice project manager for the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), said iron deficiency affected childrens' development. "Teenagers, in particular teenage girls, are most at risk and as red meat is one of the best sources of easily absorbed iron, it is good to see that high-quality meat will now be made available to pupils on a regular basis."
The improvement in the quality of red meat offered to school children is in line with the government's Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PFSPI). It recommends that caterers source meat produced to EN45011 accredited assured schemes which govern production, welfare and environmental matters as well as food safety and traceability.
Goodger said: "The new standards ban meals which are high in salt, fat and sugar and those which contain low quality meat.
"This clearly presents opportunities for butchers and catering suppliers that have developed products with a high meat content and which are lower in fat and salt. Ultimately, we should start to see more quality red meat used in schools which is good news for pupils, school caterers and the industry as a whole," he said.