NRDC and School Groups Petition USDA to Offer Responsibly Raised Chicken in National School Lunch Program
WASHINGTON – Schools should be able to procure chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics from the Department of Agriculture through its USDA Foods program, according to a petition filed today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Urban School Food Alliance, and School Food Focus. A coalition of schools and public health, parent, environmental and other groups – including School District of Philadelphia, Minneapolis School District, and California PTA – rallied in support of the petition with a letter to Secretary Vilsack.
“This will allow school cafeterias across the country to help fight our growing antibiotic crisis,” said Margaret Brown, staff attorney for NRDC. “By selling meat raised without antibiotics misuse through its bulk purchasing program, the USDA can allow more schools to serve it to their students. This will not only improve more kids’ lunches, but help keep life-saving drugs working when children need them.”
Leading health experts 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. They warn that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics is contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and harm to human health. Even the USDA has acknowledged that eliminating the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock and poultry production will slow the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“The facts are clear: access to chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics can help protect our students and the broader community. That’s why our six city Alliance, which serves nearly three million kids every day, has already committed to purchase chicken that helps stems the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said Eric Goldstein, Chairman of the Urban School Food Alliance. “We respectfully call on our colleagues at USDA to help make sure all our children have access to responsibly raised chicken.”
USDA Foods buys food in bulk and offers it to schools nationwide, generally at a lower price than the commercial market. 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 affordable and accessible for more schools nationwide.
“We created the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use (CRAU) standard to eliminate the overuse of medically important antibiotics and provide an essential level of transparency and accountability lacking in the school food market,” said Kathy Lawrence, co-founder and senior director of School Food Focus. “Every child deserves to be served food that is good for their health, our local economies and the environment, and CRAU is an important way for schools to do this.”
In late 2014, the Urban School Food Alliance—a coalition of six of the largest school districts in the U.S.—committed to purchasing only chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics by meeting the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use standard. Large school districts like this have been able to use their substantial purchasing power to negotiate rates directly with chicken producers.
However, more than 14,000 school districts nationwide would be better able to extend the same benefits to their students if the USDA provides access to more responsibly raised chicken through their national purchasing program. Doing so will not only allow interested schools to improve school meals, but also help fight the growing public health threats from the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria nationwide.
In the United States, more than 70 percent of antibiotics important to human medicine are actually sold for use on livestock, often in animals that are not sick. Rather, these drugs are inappropriately used to speed animal growth and stave off disease in the crowded, unsanitary, and stressful conditions common on industrial farms.
Leading experts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization warn this practice contributes to the growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which travels from the farm and into our communities through soil, air, water, the food we eat, and even workers. 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 the risk of treatment failure. Even the USDA has acknowledged that eliminating the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock and poultry production will slow the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Increasingly, the chicken industry, restaurant chains, and school districts are taking note and responding to the demand for responsibly raised chicken. Large-scale producers like Tyson and Perdue, as well as fast food giants like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Subway, have already improved their antibiotics policies.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
About the Urban School Food Alliance The Urban School Food Alliance was created by school food professionals in 2012 to address the unique needs of the nation’s largest school districts. The nonprofit group allows the districts to share best practices and leverage their purchasing power to continue to drive quality up and costs down while incorporating sound environmental practices. The six founding cities, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Orange County in Orlando, together offer service to 2.8 million children at more than 4,700 schools daily. This translates to nearly 500 million meals a year. The coalition aims to ensure that all public school students across the nation receive healthy, nutritious meals through socially responsible practices. To learn more about the Urban School Food Alliance or to support its work, please visit UrbanSchoolFoodAlliance.org.
About School Food Focus
School Food Focus is the national collaborative that ignites change in our food system by working on both the demand and supply sides of school food. They are committed to changing the way school food is produced and purchased so that every child in the U.S. — regardless of income or race — has access to healthy school meals. Learn more at www.schoolfoodfocus.org.