Meat-free meals for school children are set to be on the menu every day under a newly approved French climate change law.

School canteens will be required to provide a vegetarian option daily, while meat and fish dishes will only be sourced from local producers that have proven their environmental "performance".

Parents will be given the chance to opt in on behalf of their children as part of a plan to roll out more vegetarian meals in all canteens run by the French state. Catering services will also be required to include a vegetarian option within the next two years.

The goal of the law is not only to move towards sustainable food but to diversify protein sources, the government says.

Some politicians on the right have denounced the policy as “ideologically driven” , “sectarian” and even “totalitarian”. 

The government has hit back at criticism, describing claims that vegetarian meals were not balanced as “a prehistoric debate”.

Previously, schools only had to provide a vegetarian option once a week. The shift to a daily requirement follows two years of trials that are said to have been successful. 

Vegetarian meals can in many cases be less expensive, according to a study by France’s vegetarian association and Greenpeace. 

Test cases have shown that “nine times out of ten” a vegetarian meal is "less expensive” reported health website Top Santé, which reported on the trials.

While they are more time-consuming to prepare, state-run kitchens that have already experimented with regular vegetarian menus say they can manage workflows better with experience.

It is hoped that the policy will also lead to millions of tonnes of CO2 savings.


The study also showed that another key concern, that vegetarian meals would lead to more food waste, did not prove correct in most cases.

Rather than increase food waste, vegetarian meals could actually reduce it given that half of all food waste is meat, Top Santé reported. 

It is hoped that the policy will also lead to millions of tonnes of CO2 savings.

Take-up of the current vegetarian option is said to be close to 20 per cent on average in both primary schools and university canteens.

Data was also collected around whether vegetarian meals attracted youngsters to use the canteen rather than non-school options, but proved difficult to assess.

From now on, all food training courses will have to include lessons on the benefits of diversifying protein sources. 

Managers will also have to give preference to suppliers that meet “environmental preservation requirements”.

From 2024, 60 per cent of meat and fish served at school should not only meet environmental standards but also “respect short distribution channels”.#

French authorities earlier this year also pushed vegetarian meals on “sanitary” grounds linked to the Covid crisis.

The school food measures are part of a wide-ranging climate law approved this week. 

The legislation also included a clampdown on nitrogen-based fertilisers in agriculture in a bid to lower nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions. 

The law envisages a fertiliser tax if voluntary targets are not met, a move which has caused some opposition from farmers.