LOS ANGELES (PRNewswire) — 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, announced today an antibiotic-free standard for companies to follow when supplying chicken products to its schools. The Alliance is taking action to protect the future of students.
Serving nearly 2.9 million students daily, Alliance members procure more than $550 million in food and supplies annually. The coalition aims to use its joint purchasing power and influence to help drive down nationwide costs, while setting higher standards for the quality of food served in its schools. The Alliance seeks to ensure that students receive the highest quality meals and that exceed minimum United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines.
The Alliance's landmark action today focuses on chicken because it is one of the most popular items served at cafeterias across the country.
"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 and Chief Executive Officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education. "This move by the Alliance shows that school food directors across the country truly care about the health and wellness of students."
Working with suppliers, non-profit partners and government agencies, the Alliance has committed to the following standard:
The Alliance will require that all chicken products must be produced under a USDA Process Verified Program that includes compliance with the following:
- 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
- No antibiotics ever
If a food company cannot supply the full volume of "No Antibiotics Ever" chicken during procurement, a written plan as to when the supplier will meet the above standard will be required. In the meantime, the supplier must have the capacity for USDA Process Verified (third party) for Therapeutic Use Only chicken as defined in the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Support For Antibiotic Stewardship in Poultry Production" dated December 2013; Or School Food FOCUS /The PEW Charitable Trusts "Purchasing Guidelines That Minimize the Use of Antibiotics in Poultry Production" dated September 2014.
The Board of Education at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) today also approved the 2014 Good Food Procurement Resolution that calls for antibiotic and hormone-free standards in its food procurement guidelines.
"The passing of the resolution shows the bold steps school districts are taking to ensure the health and wellness of students," said LAUSD Deputy Food Services Director Laura Benavidez. "Providing the best possible, highest quality food for students shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a standard."
"Purchasing meat and poultry raised without the unnecessary use of antibiotics is critical to ensuring the safety of our children," said Mark Izeman, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the nation's leading environmental and public health organizations and a non-profit partner of the Alliance that helped develop the antibiotic-free standard. "Today's transformational move will not only have a dramatic impact on the quality of school meals, but will also help push the entire food industry to move away from animals raised with improper antibiotic use."
According to NRDC, the vast majority of antibiotics in this country are used in animal agriculture—and often not to treat sick animals but to speed up animal growth and to compensate for unsanitary conditions common at industrial farms. This misuse in meat and poultry production contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which travel off of farms and into our communities— not just on the meat itself, but also in our soil, air, and water. Leading public health and medical organizations including the World Health Organization have warned that the widespread overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animals contributes to the dangerous rise of antibiotic resistance in humans.
"Chicago Public Schools, in partnership with School Food FOCUS, was the first major city to pilot antibiotic-free chicken in its schools, and is proud to be a part of this important step forward with the Alliance," said Leslie Fowler, Executive Director of Nutritional Support Services at Chicago Public Schools.
"In some of the school districts served by the Alliance, as much as 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced price meals because a significant number of families live in poverty," said Lora Gilbert, Senior Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Orange County Public Schools in Orlando. "No matter the economic background, we want to assure parents that we're providing the best possible food for their children in school."
In addition to purchasing quality food, the USFA also is working to implement sound environmental practices in the six largest school districts. In the coming months, the Alliance members will be discontinuing the use of more than 270 million polystyrene trays per year and replacing them with more environmental-friendly compostable trays. The districts are also in the process of sourcing compostable forks, knives and spoons for students to use while eating their meals.
"Making improvements in all areas of our service to students is vital to a positive experience during meal times," said Penny Parham, Administrative Director Department of Food & Nutrition at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. "Introducing a compostable plate and utensils is part of our sustainability initiatives creating a healthy environment along with healthy meals for our students."
The Urban School Food Alliance formed nearly two years ago to use its purchasing power to continue to drive quality up and costs down while incorporating sound environmental practices. Members of the group share best practices in order to meet the expectations of students and parents, while meeting nutrient recommendations for whole grain products, low fat dairy, fresh produce and lean protein that when prepared in a calorie conscious, low in fat, sugar and sodium.
"Serving the diverse needs of our communities is our greatest pride," said Dora Rivas, Executive Director of Food & Child Nutrition Services at Dallas Independent Public Schools. "Working with the Alliance, I am able to institute greater change for my students than I would alone."
To learn more about the Urban School Food Alliance, please visit www.urbanschoolfoodalliance.org. For more information about antibiotic-free meat and poultry, please visit http://www.nrdc.org/food/saving-antibiotics.asp.