CHICAGO Dec 9 Six of the largest U.S. school
districts are switching to antibiotic-free chicken, officials
said on Tuesday, pressuring the world's top meat companies to
adjust production practices in the latest push against drugs
used on farms.
The move by districts in New York City, Los Angeles,
Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Orlando County is
intended to protect children's health amid concerns about the
rise of so-called "superbugs," bacteria that gain resistance to
conventional medicines, school officials said.
However, the change may raise costs for schools because bird
mortality rates are typically higher in flocks raised without
antibiotics. The six districts, which served at least 2.6
million meals last year, hope to limit costs by combining their
purchasing power, officials said.
Under the new standards, all chicken products served in the
districts must come from birds that were never fed antibiotics,
according to the Urban School Food Alliance, which represents
School officials are demanding the change after meeting with
industry experts and "really understanding how this affects the
human body overall and our future with antibiotic resistance,"
said Leslie Fowler, executive director of nutrition support
services for the Chicago Public Schools.
"We're landing in a place that the scientists agree is the
right direction," she said.
The switch is expected to take several years as contracts
with food vendors expire and meat producers respond to the new
Companies like Tyson Foods Inc and Pilgrim's Pride
Corp have said they will not be able to change
production systems quickly to raise more chickens without
antibiotics, Fowler said. In those cases, the districts will
require suppliers to explain when they can meet the new
Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride did not respond to questions from
Perdue Foodservice said its production capacity is
confidential. The unit of Perdue Farms has "no-antibiotics-ever"
chicken products that meet the districts' new standards,
according to the company.
However, the National Chicken Council said sick birds
sometimes need to be treated with antibiotics.
"We strongly caution against food trends that are not fully
supported by science, will introduce higher costs into the food
system and offer no benefit to public health," spokesman Tom
A Reuters investigation in September found that major U.S.
poultry firms were administering antibiotics to their flocks far
more pervasively than regulators realized, posing a potential
risk to human health.
In February, fast-food chain Chick-fil-A said it would
switch to antibiotic-free chicken within five years.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek)