The six major school districts that are members of the Urban School Food Alliance have committed to purchasing and serving only antibiotic-free chicken in their school cafeterias. The six districts—New York City Schools, Los Angeles USD, Chicago Public Schools, Dallas ISD, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools—enroll nearly 2.85 million students at over 4,500 school sites, serve almost 470 million meals annually and collectively spend more than $550 million on food and supplies each year.
The Alliance says it hopes 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, and to ensure that students receive the highest quality meals and that exceed minimum USDA guidelines. The initial focus was put 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."
Under the agreement, all chicken products purchased by the districts must be produced under a USDA Process Verified Program that requires no animal byproducts in the feed, an all-vegetarian diet, humane raising as outlined in the National Chicken Council Animal Welfare Guidelines and no use of antibiotics at all. 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 Trust's Purchasing Guidelines That Minimize the Use of Antibiotics in Poultry Production dated September 2014.
LAUSD, which will start soliciting bids immediately, will be operating under the 2014 Good Food Procurement Resolution passed recently buy its board of education, which commits it to antibiotic and hormone free food procurement standards.
"The passing of the resolution shows the bold steps school districts are taking to ensure the health and wellness of students," says 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."
"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," notes 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," says 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," says 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," says 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."