Chicago Public Schools becomes largest U.S. school district to serve chicken raised without antibiotics
November 1, 2011
– Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today began serving local chicken raised without antibiotics to students in 473 schools. This development comes on the heels of a fresh chicken purchase direct from the USDA earlier this fall. The district's new scratch-cooked chicken program includes about 1.2 million pounds from Amish farms that do not use antibiotics, for a total of about two million pounds of fresh chicken in the 2011-12 school year. Students will be offered bone-in chicken two to three times each month.
CPS' enormous purchase of chicken grown without antibiotics, made through food service provider Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, is the first of its kind. No other district in the nation is serving this kind of poultry regularly at such a scale.
Since September 2010, Chartwells and CPS have been engaged in an investigation of the use of antibiotics in poultry production, through their participation in the School Food FOCUS (Food Options for Children in the United States) Learning Lab. Chartwells made the decision to buy chicken raised without antibiotics for Chicago schools with research and consulting support from the Learning Lab and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming (HHIF). Negotiations with the producer, Miller Amish Country Poultry of Orland, Indiana, were facilitated with help from Whole Foods.
"Institutional and individual consumers have the power to change industrial farming practices that endanger human health," said Laura Rogers, project director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. "The routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock that are not sick is undermining the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs, which leaves children especially vulnerable. To protect them, we encourage school districts and other large institutional buyers of meat and poultry across the country to follow in Chicago's trailblazing footsteps."
Antibiotic overuse occurs not just on poultry farms, but throughout the American livestock industry. This project has singled out chicken because it is the most popular protein served in schools. FOCUS and HHIF 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.
"We applaud Chicago Public Schools and Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality for raising awareness about this critical public health issue," said Laura Stanley, Learning Lab Manager for School Food FOCUS. "As the third largest school district in the nation, Chicago has a big voice. It's in a position to catalyze change in the school food market nationwide."
"Whole Foods Market is thrilled to be a part of this initiative. By offering a high-quality product from a vendor that we deeply believe in – Miller Poultry, who produces our Pine Manor antibiotic free chicken – to the 300,000+ Chicago public school children, we're able to demonstrate our commitments to local communities and our vendors, which is extremely important to us. We greatly look forward to seeing this relationship flourish and grow," said Rich Wolff, Midwest Region Meat Coordinator, Whole Foods Market.
To help other districts follow Chicago's lead, the FOCUS Learning Lab and HHIF have developed purchasing guidelines for institutions and a Request for Proposals (RFP) template that any school district can adapt for its own use, available at the School Food FOCUS website.
CPS was selected by School Food FOCUS to participate in the Learning Lab in spring 2010. Lab team members from FOCUS, the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University, and Healthy Schools Campaign have worked with Chartwells staff on select menu improvement goals. Lab findings are published and shared widely, with FOCUS member districts and school districts nationwide. To expand the reach of the program, benefiting even more children, FOCUS is planning a new multi-state pilot, the Upper Midwest Regional Learning Lab, which will launch in early 2012. Several large school districts, including Chicago, will use their purchasing power to transform school food for their students as well as for many others in the region.
"We are very pleased to be able to make these huge purchases of fresh chicken," said Bob Bloomer, who oversees Chartwells food service for CPS. "It's been great to have the support of the federal government, our not-for-profit partners, and advocates in the food industry. This collaboration is an excellent example of public and private partners working together to promote the health of Chicago's school children."
"I want to ensure that CPS children have the best nutritional options possible because it impacts their ability to be more successful in the classroom," said CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. "Offering fresh chicken on school menus is another step we've taken to improve the quality of food served to our children and we will continue to bring more fresh, high-quality food options moving forward. I am grateful to all our partners in this collaboration who have worked tirelessly with CPS to do what is best for children."
A webinar about the science and methodology behind the FOCUS/HHIF initiative is available here.
About School Food FOCUS
School Food FOCUS is a national collaborative that leverages the knowledge and procurement power of over 30 of the country's largest school districts to make school meals nationwide more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced. FOCUS aims to transform food systems to support students' academic achievement and lifelong health, while directly benefiting farmers, regional economies, and the environment. School Food FOCUS is a program of Public Health Solutions and is supported by generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and a growing number of sponsors, individuals, and private funders. Please visit www.schoolfoodfocus.org and www.healthsolutions.org for more information.
About The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming
The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is working to save antibiotics by phasing out the overuse of the drugs in food animal production. HHIF works with public health leaders, veterinarians, agricultural interests, academics and citizens groups who share our objective of preserving the integrity of antibiotics as a means of protecting human and animal health. Learn more and get involved at www.saveantibiotics.org.