Starting this week, kids in Chicago will be a little bit healthier a couple times each month.
In a move that flew under the media radar but could be the start of something very important, Chicago Public Schools began serving antibiotic-free chicken on Tuesday. The school system, the nation's third largest, will now be buying 1.2 million pounds of antibiotic-free bone-in drumsticks annually from Amish poultry farms, representing about one quarter of the chicken served in its cafeterias.
Antibiotics are administered to our livestock to promote growth and compensate for the decrepit conditions of industrial/factory feedlots. Seventy percent of all antibiotics used in this country are given to healthy livestock; this overuse has led to the proliferation of super bacteria immune to modern medicine's arsenal of antibiotics. Bottom line: our most powerful drugs sometimes don't work and people are dying because of it.
Public awareness about the issue is growing, though. The Pew Charitable Trusts, which had a hand in the Chicago deal, has a "Moms for Antibiotic Awareness" campaign, while Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has been the indefatigable voice on the subject in Congress. Unfortunately, her bill, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), is in its annual stalled mode.
But this move by the Chicago schools could be a game-changer. If costs are manageable—the drumsticks are only a few pennies more per serving than "chicken" nuggets—why wouldn't every school district be serving antibiotic-free chicken? OK, I'll take Tulsa and Tallahassee to start, but seeing Chicago take the initial leap can only make this easier for other institutions to discuss and tackle.
Going to a school parents' association meeting soon? How about discussing Chicago's move? Knowledge is power; spreading awareness can be the most powerful of tools.