Six of the largest school districts in the United States are pledging to use antibiotic-free chicken in an effort to push the world’s top meat companies to change their production methods and use fewer drugs.
The districts, which include Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Orlando County have decided to participate to help students remain healthy as claims of “superbugs,” bacteria that shows resistance to medicines, are on the rise.
However, the change could come at a cost for schools, as bird mortality rates are higher among those raised without antibiotics. The six districts are planning on combining their purchasing power in order to keep those costs low.
New standards from the Urban School Food Alliance require schools to obtain any chicken products served from birds that have never been fed antibiotics. The alliance annually buys over $552 million worth of food and supplies to feed almost 2.9 million children each day.
The changes came after school officials met with industry experts and gained a better understanding of “how this affects the human body overall and our future with antibiotic resistance,” said Leslie Fowler, executive director of nutrition support services for the Chicago Public Schools.
The change is expected to take several years as they wait for contracts with food vendors to reach their end. In addition, meat producers need time to respond to the new standards.
Large companies such as Tyson Foods Inc and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp have already said they will need more time to change their production systems. Districts will require these suppliers to suggest when they expect to fully meet the standards.
The two companies have not yet said when they expect to do so.
Perdue Foodservice told Tom Polansek for Reuters that their production service is confidential. They added that they do produce “no-antibiotics-ever” chicken products that fully meet the new standards.
According to the National Chicken Council, there is a need for antibiotics at times to treat sick birds.
“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,” spokesman Tom Super said.
An investigation by Reuters last September discovered that antibiotics were being given to chicken by major US poultry firms more often than was previously thought. Doing so poses a health risk to humans who consume the meat.
Last February, fast food chain Chick-fil-A announced they will be transitioning to all antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years.