The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light how essential school meals are to millions of our country’s most vulnerable children. Nourishing growing bodies and minds with the healthiest meals possible is a critical investment in our future. Through Farm to School programs, and adoption of values-based procurement policies, districts across the country are leveraging their enormous supply chains to serve the best possible food to students and move our food system in a more sustainable, healthier and equitable direction. The Urban School Food Alliance (USFA), an early leader of this exciting wave of change, today announced that they are issuing a new responsible antibiotic use standard for turkey products served to millions of students in 15 major cities across the country.
This is big news!
Turkey happens to be the second most commonly served animal protein after chicken in Alliance schools. It turns out that the U.S. turkey industry is also the most intensive user of medically important antibiotics in the livestock sector, significantly surpassing all others on a use per kilogram of animal basis. By issuing this new standard, the Urban School Food Alliance and their members (including some of the largest school districts in the country like New York public schools, Dallas Independent School District and Los Angeles Unified School District) are sending a clear signal to turkey producers that it is high time to curtail their reliance on routine antibiotic use.
After all, the vast majority of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for use on farm animals like turkeys, cows and pigs (chicken producers have made huge strides in recent years). Most of those drugs are routinely distributed en masse in feed or water—often to animals that are not sick to help animals survive crowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions typical of factory farms. Routine antibiotic use hastens the rise and spread of resistant bacteria from farms into communities. It also increases the prevalence of drug-resistant infections in people that are harder, and at times impossible, to treat.
This commitment is especially significant in light of the fact that antibiotic resistance is understood to be one of the world’s greatest health threats and is unfortunately expected to unfold with similar racial and economic disparities that we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative CDC estimates already indicate that more than 2.8 million people in the U.S. get sick each year from superbugs, and these infections are the primary cause of death for 35,000 people each year. This means that on average, someone in the United States gets an antibiotic-resistant infection every 11 seconds, and every 15 minutes, someone dies. Meanwhile, infectious diseases experts at Washington University in St. Louis put the possible toll from antibiotic resistant infections at more than 160,000 deaths per year.
Kids deserve a healthier option.
Urban School Food Alliance districts are not only boldly committing to serving healthier food to students, they are also pledging to protect public health from the worsening threat of drug-resistant infections, and helping preserve antibiotic efficacy in the long run. With the federal government’s persistent lack of action in addressing this critical public health crisis, commitments like these send a critical message to industry that current practices are no longer acceptable.
I commend USFA member districts for their leadership, for taking a bold stance in support of public health and for everything they do every single day to improve the health and lives of our kids.