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Groups ask USDA to change chicken purchasing policy

USDA asked to help schools procure chicken raised without routine use of medically important antibiotics.

Schools should be able to procure chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its USDA Foods program, according to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Urban School Food Alliance and School Food Focus.

USDA Foods buys food in bulk and offers it to schools nationwide, generally at a lower price than the commercial market. However, the current program doesn’t offer "no antibiotics administered" chicken or chicken raised without routine use of medically important antibiotics. The groups contend including chicken raised with better antibiotics practices in USDA Foods would make it more affordable and accessible for more schools nationwide.

“This will allow school cafeterias across the country to help fight our growing antibiotic crisis,” said Margaret Brown, staff attorney for NRDC. “By selling meat raised without antibiotics misuse through its bulk purchasing program, USDA can allow more schools to serve it to their students. This will not only improve more kids’ lunches, but help keep life-saving drugs working when children need them.”

“We created the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use (CRAU) standard to eliminate the overuse of medically important antibiotics and provide an essential level of transparency and accountability lacking in the school food market,” said Kathy Lawrence, co-founder and senior director of School Food Focus. “Every child deserves to be served food that is good for their health, our local economies and the environment, and CRAU is an important way for schools to do this.”

In late 2014, the Urban School Food Alliance — a coalition of six of the largest school districts in the U.S. — committed to purchasing only chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics by meeting the CRAU standard. Large school districts like this have been able to use their substantial purchasing power to negotiate rates directly with chicken producers.

However, more than 14,000 school districts nationwide would be better able to extend the same benefits to their students if USDA provides access to more responsibly raised chicken through their national purchasing program, the groups argued.

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