The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partner, School Food FOCUS, worked together to develop the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use (CRAU) designation for responsible antibiotic use in the production of poultry sold to schools, hospitals, and other institutions. By reducing the amount of antibiotics given to chickens, CRAU can help slow the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria in food animal production, protecting both human and animal health over time.
CRAU is a standard for the veterinary supervision of poultry raised as food animals that ensures the responsible use of antibiotics to treat sick animals. The standard is verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the production of chicken sold in bulk to schools, hospitals, and other institutional buyers.
School districts in the FOCUS National Procurement Initiative (NPI)—a collaborative effort working to leverage collective purchasing power to bring more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced food to schools—wanted to purchase food produced in a responsible manner. School Food FOCUS and Pew designed CRAU to give these schools and others a new option for buying chicken, the protein most frequently served in schools, which would benefit public health by lowering the overall use of antibiotics.
The CRAU standard is not about food safety. It is a public health standard aimed at preserving antibiotic effectiveness for human health over the long term, and it deals with antibiotics administered to chickens on the farm. CRAU also does not address antibiotic residue in the meat itself; U.S. law already requires that any antibiotic use be discontinued in advance of slaughter so that no residue remains.
Companies that adopt CRAU will help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics used in human and animal health care by reducing these drugs’ overall use and slowing the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria—the superbugs that pose a global health threat.
Antibiotic resistance—an inevitable consequence of antibiotic use in human medicine and animal agriculture—is a serious and escalating threat. According to conservative estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections from drug-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths every year.
Since any antibiotic use encourages the development of resistance, it is important to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in all settings—including in hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics, and food production. By purchasing chicken raised with responsible antibiotic use, schools and other institutions can help address this problem—and encourage suppliers to commit to judicious antibiotic use, which slows the emergence of superbugs and helps keep the antibiotics we have working longer.
There is an existing standard, called No Antibiotics Ever (NAE), which prohibits the use of antibiotics in poultry production altogether. NAE products also qualify for the CRAU label if suppliers choose to meet additional certification. However, NAE products can be too expensive and limited in supply for many school districts and other institutions. The CRAU standard has the potential to reduce the overuse of antibiotics on a much larger scale than NAE, since it allows for limited, responsible use of antibiotics to treat sick animals. This benefits human and animal health while also yielding a more affordable product.