If the thought of a crispy, golden-brown chicken nugget makes your mouth water, rest assured you are not alone. Billions of nuggets are consumed in the United States each year, many of them by kids as part of a school lunch program.
And now, there’s a nugget of good news for the chicken-lovers among us: six of the largest U.S. school districts — including New York City — announced today that they will seek to buy only antibiotic-free chicken for their school lunch programs.
The group — which also includes Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County, and Orlando — makes up a coalition called the Urban School Food Alliance that works to leverage their immense purchasing power in order to “drive quality up and costs down while incorporating sound environmental practices.”
In other words, they push for better, healthier, more sustainable food in schools across the country — and because they represent such a large portion of the school food market, food suppliers tend to listen. Consider this: New York City public schools serve 860,000 meals every day, and together these six districts include 2.6 million kids.
That’s a lot of nuggets.
According to the Alliance, the new standards for the districts require that all chicken products must come from birds that were never fed antibiotics. The requirements also stipulate an all-vegetarian diet for the chickens, as well as humane living conditions.
These changes come at a time of increased awareness about the dangers of antibiotic misuse in livestock production, and concerns about “superbugs,” bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust, up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States go to healthy food animals. This practice often compensates for less-than-ideal living conditions and to make chickens, pigs, and cows grow faster.
According to NRDC, this overuse also “kills off weak bacteria and creates the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to multiply and thrive. When the meat industry routinely misuses and overuses antibiotics in this way, it threatens public health when essential drugs no longer work to treat infections.”
Now if only they could do something about that 40 percent thing.
Photo credit: Kenneth Ristau via Creative Commons