Big Move: Chicago Schools To Buy Antibiotic-Free Chicken

Publication: Wired

Author: Maryn McKenna


11/01/2011 - Big news today on several fronts: against the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and for healthier food for school children. The Chicago Public Schools announced that its main food-service company, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, will begin buying and serving chicken drumsticks from birds raised in the local area without antibiotics. The deal will bring 1.2 million pounds of chicken to 473 schools per year, and represents about 25 percent of all the chicken that Chartwells-Thompson serves in the school system.

The new move was announced in a media telephone briefing that was hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming and included representatives from Chartswell-Thompson; the nonprofit organizations School Foods Focus and the Healthy Schools Campaign; Whole Foods Market, which is making it affordable to transport the birds; and Miller Amish Country Poultry, the supplier.

This is an important deal for several different reasons:

It makes Chicago, which is the third-largest school district in the country, the largest district to endorse feeding kids chicken that is “ABF” or antibiotic-free. That means the birds were raised without routine use of small doses of antibiotics in their feed, a strategem that makes it possible for them to survive in the crowded conditions of chicken batteries but that breeds vast amounts of highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a consequence.

It puts economic force behind the movement to drag very large-scale agriculture away from antibiotic use. There has never been any scientific debate about the way that antibiotic overuse on farms increases the presence of resistant bacteria in the environment (for evidence, see this decades-long bibliography). It’s always been a question of politics and economics — and until recently, the economics have been on the side of the antibiotic-using producers. An investment like this could begin to tip the scale in the other direction.

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Read the full article, Big Move: Chicago Schools To Buy Antibiotic-Free Chicken, on Wired's Web site.

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