Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has begun 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.
The district's volume purchase of chicken grown without antibiotics, made through food service provider Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, is the first of its kind, it says, noting that 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.
"We applaud Chicago Public Schools and Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality for raising awareness about this critical public health issue," says 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."
To help other districts follow Chicago's lead, the FOCUS Learning Lab and HHIF have developed purchasing guidelines for institutions and an RFP template that any school district can adapt for its own use, available at the School Food FOCUS website.
"We are very pleased to be able to make these huge purchases of fresh chicken," says 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."