Responsibly-Produced Meat & Poultry

The Agricultural Marketing Service purchased more than 254 million pounds of chicken for the USDA Foods program in 2014. Beef purchases amounted to less than half that at 113 million pounds. Chicken is the number one meat product used in school meals, and both chicken and beef are important nutritional components of school meals. As the nation becomes more aware of the impact of non-medical use of antibiotics in the meat industry, school districts are also taking note. 

School Food FOCUS’s (FOCUS) National Procurement Initiative (NPI)—a collaborative of 15 large school districts nationwide—is a driving force in developing a new standard to minimize the use of antibiotics in poultry production. The widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture in the United States seriously compromises their efficacy in treating human infections caused by drug resistant bacteria as noted by the CDC in its 2013 report, "Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States."

How realistic is it to source responsibly-produced meat and poultry for your school programs? Can you afford it? How can you ensure that the producers are completely transparent with their on-farm practices? Other than certified organic producers, there are few labels that offer the same confidence to buyers, so it is imperative to understand the technical details of therapeutic versus non-therapeutic applications of antibiotics. FOCUS and The Pew Charitable Trusts developed "Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use Standard for Poultry (CRAU)," which provides the first standard, third party certification verified by USDA. The CRAU standard is for the rare use of medically important antiobiotics in poultry production if prescribed by a licensed veterinarian. This standard was also referenced as an alternative approach in the Urban School Food Alliance’s December 2014 announcement that it is adopting a “No Antibiotics Ever” specification for its poultry procurement, which includes:

•    No animal byproducts in the feed
•    Raised on an all-vegetarian diet
•    Humanely-raised as outlined in the "National Chicken Council Animal Welfare Guidelines"
•    No antibiotics ever

With large corporate attitudes shifting—such as McDonalds recent announcement that it will phase out purchasing poultry raised using human antibiotics within two years as well its adoption of the “McDonald’s Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals”—we can anticipate that the major producers will increase the availability and reduce the cost of poultry that meet these standards. 

We hope that public demand to limit the use of pharmaceuticals in livestock management will ultimately result in broad adoption of better practices, and that USDA foods will eventually include specifications for hormones and antibiotic use in meats and poultry in their procurement for meal programs.

To stay informed on the progress of these issues, The Environmental Working Group regularly tracks the health and environmental impact of the meat industry via their Meat-Eaters Guide. The Pew Charitable Trusts' Antibiotic Resistance Project provides ongoing research and analysis as well.

If and when your district makes changes to this area of your procurement, remember that it’s important to market your work to your community. Many people will support your efforts as well as your broader food program when they understand the impact of your commitment to fresh, safe food. 

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Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use

Chef Ann Cooper discusses the overuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry

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