Chicago Public Schools made a big food policy statement this week. On Tuesday, the district began serving local chicken raised without antibiotics to students in 473 schools, launching a new program that will serve about 1.2 million pounds of antibiotic-free poultry from a nearby Amish farm.
“No other district in the nation is serving this kind of poultry regularly at such a scale,” according to the announcement by Pew and School Food FOCUS.
Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, the food service provider for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), decided to make the purchase with “research and consulting support” from the School Food FOCUS Learning Lab and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. Fast-growing retailer Whole Foods helped facilitate talks with the producer, Miller Amish Country Poultry of Orland, Indiana.
“As the third largest school district in the nation, Chicago has a big voice,” said Laura Stanley, Learning Lab manager for School Food FOCUS. “It’s in a position to catalyze change in the school food market nationwide.”
School Food FOCUS and Pew said they were singling out chicken because it’s the most popular protein served in schools.
“Antibiotic overuse occurs not just on poultry farms, but throughout the American livestock industry,” read the release. “FOCUS and [Pew’s Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming] advocate for conservative antibiotic use on farms because of the danger that excessive use poses in the environment, not on the plate. It is important to note that chicken produced conventionally is just as safe and wholesome to eat as chicken produced without antibiotics.”
School Food FOCUS posted purchasing guidelines for food-buying institutions so they can follow CPS’s lead on antibiotic-free chicken. The group also posted a webinar on the science and methodology behind the initiative.
As WIRED’s infectious disease wonk, Maryn Mckenna, noted Tuesday, the shift to serve antibiotic-free chicken follows last year’s move by more than 300 hospitals across the country, including some in the Chicago area, to serve meat raised without antibiotics.