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'Scandalous ideology': French ministers condemn Lyon mayor over meatless school meals

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Schoolchildren walk back to their classroom after a break in Bischheim, outside Strasbourg, eastern France, Sept.1, 2020.
Schoolchildren walk back to their classroom after a break in Bischheim, outside Strasbourg, eastern France, Sept.1, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
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The French government has criticised as "scandalous ideology" the decision by the Green Party mayor of Lyon to temporarily remove meat from school meals despite raising no such objection when the city's previous right-wing administration imposed a similar measure.

Grégory Doucet, the mayor of Lyon, said the measure to impose a meat-less single menu in schools was taken to comply with COVID-19 sanitary measures which restrict the number of children that can attend the school cafeteria at the same time.

The measure allows for the daily 29,000 meals eaten in school canteens across Lyon to be served during the extended 11.30am to 1.45 pm lunchtime, city hall said. And as it includes eggs and fish, it "remains balanced" and ensures "no child is excluded," it added.

But the measure has been met with heavy criticism from the right-wing opposition in the city council.

Etienne Blanc, who ran against Doucet in last year's municipal elections, said last week that "this way of asserting a choice, without any possible alternatives, is completely unacceptable."

Beatrice de Montille, a right-wing official from the city's third district, said meanwhile that "in the city of gastronomy, the ecological majority takes advantage of the health crisis to pass ideological measures without consultations."

Asked about the controversy on Friday evening, Doucet told FranceInfo that the city's previous right-wing administration had removed meat from school meals in May 2020 when children started going back to school following the easing of the first national lockdown, and that no objections were raised then.

"That the right, which allied itself to my predecessor at the time of the (June 2020) municipal elections, cries out for ideology today, makes me smile," he said.

Still, members of the government waded into the debate over the weekend with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin writing on Twitter on Saturday: "In addition to the unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers, it is clear that the moralist and elitist policy of the "Greens" excludes the working classes."

"Many children often have only the canteen to eat meat...Scandalous ideology," he went on.

His colleague, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie wrote on Sunday: "Let's stop putting ideology on our children's plates" and said he had asked the local Préfet to investigate the matter.

Asked about the lack of reaction last year, the minister's office said there was "a real difference in the situation between May and now."

"We are no longer in an emergency situation, facing an exceptional situation," it said.