NRDC and Schools Call on USDA to Lead on Antibiotic Use

Urban School Food Alliance

Schools across the country have led the way in calling for chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics for their students. In fact, in late 2014, the Urban School Food Alliance, six of the largest districts in the country who serve nearly 3 million kids a day, committed to purchasing only responsibly raised or no antibiotics administered chicken.

This commitment, which came before similar announcements by McDonalds and others, helped to drive the market for responsibly raised chicken—and get better food to millions of kids. The impact is even more striking because in Alliance districts, 70% of kids rely on school meals for more than half of their food each day—something not uncommon in many other districts across the country.

Together, and with the support of more than 30 schools, health and environmental nonprofits, and others, we petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking that the agency provide certified responsible antibiotic use chicken to the schools through the USDA Foods program.Today, NRDC, the Urban School Food Alliance, and School Food Focus are building on this and other great work and calling on USDA to help get better chicken into schools nationwide.

Urban School Food Alliance

So why is this important?

First, reducing the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is critical to addressing the growing public health threat of antibiotic resistance.

The vast majority of antibiotics in this country are used in animal agriculture to compensate for crowded and unsanitary conditions common at industrial farms. This misuse in meat and poultry production contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which travel off of farms and into our communities — not just on the meat itself, but also in our soil, air, water, and farmworkers.

And leading health experts warn that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics is contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and harm to human health. They caution that the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria increases the numbers of infections in people that may be more difficult to treat, require longer and more expensive hospital visits, and pose more fatal and non-fatal health risks.

Second, the USDA Foods program is a significant source of chicken for schools across the country.

USDA Foods buys food in bulk and offers it to schools nationwide, generally at a lower price than the commercial market. Many schools have long relied on this program to purchase much of their chicken.

However, the current program doesn’t offer no antibiotics administered chicken or chicken raised without routine use of medically important antibiotics. Including chicken raised with better antibiotics practices in USDA Foods would make it more accessible for more than 14,000 schools nationwide.

By offer certified responsible antibiotic use chicken through their USDA foods program, USDA can simultaneous help drive the market for responsibly raised chicken and get better food to kids across the country.  

Join us in asking USDA to lead on this critical issue and offer certified responsible antibiotic use chicken through their USDA foods program. 

About the Authors

Margaret Brown

Staff Attorney, New York program

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