Jamie Oliver has aimed a stinging attack at Education Secretary Michael Gove's flagship academy programme, claiming the schools are lowering nutrition levels among pupils and profiteering from junk food vending machines
The celebrity chef, who has campaigned for healthier school meals over the past decade, warned the progress made in recent years risks being undone by new academies which are allowed to ignore nutrient-based Government standards.
In an interview with The Observer Food Monthly, Oliver said: "This mantra that we are not going to tell (academy) schools what to do just isn't good enough in the midst of the biggest obesity epidemic ever.
"The public health of five million children should not be left to luck or chance."
The chef said he was "totally mystified" as to why academies are being allowed to determine what food should be on offer, while state schools follow the national standards introduced in 2008.
Referring to Mr Gove, who enabled more schools in England to become academies through the Academies Bill in 2010, Oliver said: "I have got nothing against him personally. But the health of millions of children could be affected by this one man. When there is a national obesity crisis unfolding around us, I honestly think he is playing with fire."
Oliver, who has recently taken his fight to improve school meals to America, said the national standards should apply to all schools and called for headteachers of academies to be given guidance on the type of food they should be serving. He also accused academies of making money from vending machines packed with sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks.
Under the national rules, which are applied to other state schools, vending machines can only sell healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts and bottles of water.
Mr Gove has insisted that academies should not be covered by the national rules because their headteachers can be trusted to deliver the best for their pupils.
The Department for Education said the Education Secretary asked the School Food Trust to carry out a survey of food standards in new academies last autumn, according to The Observer. A department spokesman said: "We trust schools to act in the best interests of their pupils. There's been a lasting culture change in attitudes since Jamie's School Dinners. Heads know that failing to invest in good, nutritious food is a false economy and parents won't tolerate reconstituted turkey being put back on the menu."