THOUSANDS of Muslim children have been left without meat in their school meals after the county council suddenly axed its contract with a halal products supplier.
Education chiefs admitted it could take months before a replacement for KQF Foods is found – prompting the Council of Mosques to warn that youngsters’ diets could suffer.
A total of 68 Lancashire County Council schools are affected, including 45 in Burnley, Pendle, Hyndburn and Rossendale.
Five schools in Blackburn and Darwen, which still receive produce through the county’s central catering unit, have also lost their halal meat supplies.
Lancashire Council of Mosques chairman Salim Mulla said: “With the amount of Muslim children in schools under the local authority’s care we are concerned about where they will source their meat in the future.
“We want to see this difficulty resolved quickly. We are worried about our children being left without meat in their diet for any long period.”
Halal is the description of food and drink Muslims are allowed to consume under Islamic dietary laws, as defined in the Koran.
Classifying of halal food, including meat which must be slaughtered in a certain way, can only be carried out by a Muslim expert in the laws.
Confusion surrounds why KQF lost its contract, which started in May 2009 and was renewed in April.
The move follows an unexpected county council food standards inspection into the composition, labelling and quality of the meat on October 9.
The company, based in George West Street, Blackburn, said it had not been given full details of the justification for the decision but believes it relates to paperwork.
A spokesman added the firm was seriously concerned about damage to its reputation.
The county council has refused to disclose the reason but stressed it did not relate to the meat’s Halal accreditation or health and hygiene.
The most recent Blackburn with Darwen council food hygiene inspection gave KQF a clean bill of health and the borough has not advised its schools to stop using the company.
It is understood that the decision to end the contract concerns the precise legal terms between the two parties over the proportion of meat as opposed to water and other bulking products in the halal products following a complaint.
A Lancashire County Council spokeswoman said that it was seeking an emergency temporary supplier of halal products but could give no timescale for securing a new deal.
In the meantime, Muslim children are being offered suitable non-meat and vegetarian alternatives.
KQF’s boss Faruk Valli is currently on a Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
A representative of the company, which employs 30 staff, said: “We had a county council inspection two weeks ago and we failed because our paperwork was not up to date.
“We have only just been inspected by Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Environmental Health officer and they say our hygiene standards are up to scratch.
“We have no idea why the contract was terminated.
“When our managing director gets back we hope to correct any issues and get back to supplying schools Lancashire wide with halal meat as it is the children that are suffering.
“We are concerned this could seriously damage our reputation.”
Roger Eakhurst, the council's assistant director for catering, said: “The health and safety of pupils must always come first in the provision of any supplies to our school kitchens and so we took immediate action.
“We hope to re-establish a supply of halal meat as soon as possible and in the meantime we hope parents and children will bear with us."
Blackburn with Darwen schools chief Coun Tony Humphrys said: “The council recently became aware that a major catering provider to schools in Blackburn with Darwen has ceased using the Blackburn based provider of Halal meat on the basis of an audit which found breaches in relation to their specified contract with the company.
“We had only inspected the premises in September but following the concerns, we inspected the premises again and are satisfied that there is currently no risk to health.”