MUSLIM pupils are being urged to boycott school meals containing meat over fears it may not be halal.

The Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) has written to all mosques in the county and urged parents to ensure their children stick to vegetarian options or take a packed lunch.

It came after Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council switched their meat suppliers this month - prompting fears that halal standards might not be met with the new products.

County council bosses have responded to the LCM's concerns by taking halal meet off the menus of all its primary and secondary schools until "all parties" were satisfied with the new supplier.

But Blackburn with Darwen chiefs said the meat would remain, although a meeting has been arranged to discuss the matter with the LCM.

Under the new contracts, meat for the 560 county schools and 25 in Blackburn with Darwen is provided by Blackpool-based Clifton Meats.

A spokesman for the company said they had passed the detail of their supplier to the county council for further investigation.

Clifton's supplier, Bolton Halal, a butchers based in Harewood Road, Preston, said its products, which it obtained from a supplier in New Zealand, conformed to halal.

The Halal Food Authority (HFA), a voluntary non-profit making organisation launched in 1994 to monitor and regulate red meat and poultry, has approved Clifton Meats' products.

But Salim Mulla, secretary of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: "We have suspicions that it may not be halal and that is not just about cross contamination, it is about things like food preparation.

"We would like the meat to come from a single source butcher which could be properly monitored for Halal standards.

"There is not enough known about the origins of the meat and the fact that it has been checked by the HFA is not good enough."

The concept of halal is central to the Islamic religion. In relation to food it means that the meat has been blessed and killed in accordance with Islamic law.

Many schools across the county serve halal dishes alongside their non-halal menu.

Mr Mulla said the LCM wanted the meat to be certified by the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC), rather than the HFA.

He said people in the Muslim community had raised doubts with them about the HFA and they way it certified that meat was halal.

Mr Mulla said there would be widespread anger in the Muslim comunity if it was discovered meat which was supplied to schools was not halal.

But Masood Khawaja, president of the HFA, said that all appropriate checks had been made on Clifton.

Mr Khawaja said: "It is preposterous to say that the supplier is unfit and that our checks are unsuitable.

"These allegations are unfounded."

He suggested that the suppliers in New Zealand were Christians and that might also be a reason for the protest.

But Mr Mulla denied this, saying he had no knowledge of whether the producers were Christian or not.

Leader of Lancashire County Council Hazel Harding said: "This is a situation that is being taken very seriously and hopefully this issue can be resolved quickly."

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said it was "vitally important" that the LCM was satisfied with the certification of halal meat used in school meals.

He said: "We would like to reassure parents that we have replaced halal meat dishes with an alternative option which will remain until all parties are satisfied with the authenticity of supply.

"The current concern has arisen due to the fact that there is no one recognised organisational body in the UK that sets the standard for the certification for halal meat.

"The Lancashire Council of Mosques has a preference over the type of certification and we will continue to work with them to put this in place with the aim of restoring halal meat to our school menus in September."

Tony Pickavance, key accounts manager for Clifton Meats, said they were not providing halal meats because of the concerns and would not do so until the LCM was satisfied with their procedures.

Details of Clifton Meats supplier had been passed to Lancashire County Council for further investigations, he added.

A spokesman for Blackburn with Darwen Council said that the halal meat was still on the menu but that a meeting had been arranged with representatives of the Lancashire Council of Mosques to discuss the matter further.

Hyndburn MP Greg Pope said: "Lancashire schoolchildren have the right to have high quality school meals and there should be a halal option."