The Urban School Food Alliance (The Alliance), a coalition of the largest school districts in the United States that includes New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando, has announced an antibiotic-free standard for companies to follow when supplying chicken products to its schools.
"The standards we're asking from the manufacturers go above and beyond the quality of the chicken we normally purchase at local supermarkets," said Urban School Food Alliance Chairman Eric Goldstein. "This move by the Alliance shows that school food directors across the country truly care about the health and wellness of students."
The Alliance said they focused their action on chicken because it's one of the most popular items served in cafeterias across the country.
The Alliance will now require that all chicken be produced under a USDA Process Verified Program that includes no animal by-products in the feed, raised on an all-vegetarian diet, humanely raised as outlined in the National Chicken Council Animal Welfare Guidelines and no antibiotics ever.
"We share in the goal of providing our school children with food that is healthy, safe and affordable," said Tom Super, National Chicken Council vice president of communications, in response to the announcement.
"Chicken is the most nutritious, versatile and affordable protein available, especially for growing, school-aged children. In some instances, school breakfast and lunch might be the only opportunity for kids to eat high-quality protein during the day.
"We support consumer and student choice, but we strongly caution against food trends that are not fully supported by science, will introduce higher costs into the food system, and offer no benefit to public health."
Antibiotic resistance is a very serious and complex issue, the NCC clarified in a statement, claiming that several scientific, peer-reviewed risk assessments demonstrate that resistance that is emerging in animals and transferring to humans does not happen in measurable amounts, if at all.
For those antibiotics that are FDA-approved for use in raising chickens, the majority of them are not used in human medicine and therefore do not represent any threat of creating resistance in humans.
Still, antibiotics for growth promotion are being phased out through actions taken by the FDA and endorsed by animal agriculture, and the role of the veterinarian in prescribing them is being expanded.
All chicken meat is "antibiotic-free." If an antibiotic is used on the farm, federal rules require the antibiotics to have cleared the animals' systems before they can be processed. For approved antibiotics, FDA and the USDA have extensive monitoring and testing programs to make sure that food at the grocery store or in schools does not contain antibiotic residues, the NCC concluded.