Chicken served in school lunches in six of the nation’s largest cities (including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) will soon be missing a common ingredient in the poultry production world: antibiotics. On Tuesday, the Urban School Food Alliance, which feeds almost three million students among the districts, vowed to use their purchasing power to support poultry suppliers who don’t utilize antibiotics in feeding their chickens. While the FDA has not been particularly proactive in limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock production, concern about the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of super germs is at the root of this new standard. Overuse of drugs and antibiotics can lead to troubling and difficult to treat complications from common infections. The new policy for the involved schools means that no chicken that has ever been fed antibiotics may be sold or served in school lunches.

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The districts are also requesting that the chickens be fed an all-vegetarian diet and that the poultry producers follow certain animal welfare guidelines. Additionally, any meat suppliers who currently can’t meet the new standards will be required to outline a plan and timeline for how they will reach them. We’d rather see stronger support for yummy vegetarian and vegan school lunch options, but we are happy that these school districts are taking concrete steps towards healthier, drug-free ingredients in school meals. Not surprisingly, chicken production behemoths and the National Chicken Council caution that the cost of chicken will rise, supply will not be able to keep up with demand, and that the jury is still out on whether feeding antibiotics to chickens is truly a health risk.

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