The largest school districts in the country, including Miami-Dade, plan to serve only antibiotic-free chicken in school cafeterias.
“It is where we need to go, and where we can go,” said Penny Parham, Miami-Dade's administrative director of food and nutrition. “We want to be able to drive the market.”
Schools do have considerable clout with the food industry. Miami-Dade alone, for instance, bought more than 4.2 million pounds in chicken last year at a cost of almost $12million, according to the district.
Miami-Dade is a founding member of the Urban School Food Alliance, which works to shape costs and priorities in food services at schools. Members of the alliance — including districts in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Orlando — have agreed to the new chicken standards.
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The group is concerned that antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes to resistant bacteria in the environment and humans.
Dade will keep its current chicken contracts in place, but will require new vendors to adhere to the standards, Parham said. The antibiotic-free chicken is expected to arrive on plates in Miami-Dade cafeteria sometime in the next school year.
According to the alliance, districts also committed to buying chickens that are fed an all-vegetarian diet and humanely raised.
Alliance members serve nearly 2.9million students daily and chicken ranks as the most popular entree.
In a statement, alliance chair Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of school support services for the New York City Department of Education, said the standards for school chicken will go beyond grocery store quality.
“This move by the alliance shows that school food directors across the country truly care about the health and wellness of students,” he said.
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