Hormone- and Antibiotic-Free Procurement

The Agricultural Marketing Service purchased over 333 million pounds of chicken for the USDA Foods program last year.1 That’s more than double the amount of beef purchases at 157 million pounds. Turkey came in third at 92 million pounds. The take away: schools are a huge market for these products. They are also a vulnerable population.

Concerns of the growing, antibiotic-resistant salmonella known as the “super-bug” in our meat supply have sparked a small but persistent interest in the school food market for procurement of “antibiotic-free” (ABF) or “raised without antibiotics” (RWA) poultry. In beef, the issue expands to hormones since cattle are targeted for both growth and health as they mature to slaughter weight in feedlots.

The Environmental Working Group published “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets,” which details existing problems and they continue to track the health and environmental impact of the meat industry with their Meat-Eaters Guide. Pew Charitable Trust’s Campaign for Human Health and Industrial Farming has been informing the public for several years through their policy research on the environmental impact of America’s appetite for chicken, the most recent being “The Business of Broilers-Hidden Costs of Putting a Chicken on Every Grill.” Finding adequate supplies of ABF chicken is challenging which highlights the importance of Pew Charitable Trust and Environmental Working Group’s policy work on this issue.

How realistic is it to locate ABF poultry or hormone- and antibiotic-free beef for your school programs?  Can you afford it? How can you ensure that the producers are completely transparent with their on-farm practices? There are few labels other than certified organic that offer confidence given the massive industrialization of the meat and poultry industry in the United States. In 2011, School Food Focus published the first purchasing guidelines and RFP language for school and institutional food service buyers to procure ABF chicken. This came about as the result of poultry procurement shifts, first in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) in 2009, and later in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2011. The genesis of the ABF procurement concept in Chicago was a collaboration between SFF, CPS, and a team from Whole Foods Market (WFM) that looked at the possibility of the schools purchasing the legs of the organic chicken that WFM purchases primarily for their breast meat. 

To date, Chicago Public Schools is purchasing more ABF chicken than any other regular school district within the United States. In a quest to find a regular supply of ABF chicken, Chartwells, one of Chicago’s food service management companies in 2013, collaborated with Family Farmed—an Illinois non-profit working to support the growth of regional agriculture—to develop a Request for Information (RFI) to locate producers. Chicago Public Schools successfully secured a contract with Miller Poultry of Indiana. The School Food Focus guide and the example of the Chicago RFI can assist you with developing procurement in this area. As well, connecting to producers via your state’s Department of Agriculture and extension services and discussing your desire to procure hormone- and antibiotic-free products with your existing vendors can all be avenues to success.

Farm Logix based in Chicago has developed a turn-key local foods program that is currently available to districts in their area with plans to expand into other markets. They have a specific focus on ABF chicken in their Farm to School services for which they connect the farm product to existing distribution networks. This facilitates integration into a district’s procurement model.

Cost for ABF is higher than non-ABF chicken. In order to offset the price, many districts focus on legs or thighs, which are cuts that are essentially a by-product of the ever-popular breast meat consumption in the United States. The most common school use of hormone- and antibiotic-free beef is ground beef, either bulk or formed into patties. All beef hot dogs are also fairly common. As with any other menu decision, evaluating the cost of a serving is not adequate for determining how you can incorporate it in to your menu. Determining the frequency and potential volume is critical. Alignment with your districts procurement protocol can support the investment in the food. Efficiencies in labor and increased participation can support the decision to add ABF poultry and hormone- and antibiotic-free meat to your menus.

Remember, it is important to market this aspect of your work to your community as many people will be supportive and, in turn, will support your program when they understand your commitment to fresh, safe food. We hope that the public demand for change in the use of pharmaceuticals in livestock management will ultimately result in broader adoption and that the USDA Foods will be updated to reflect a hormone- and antibiotic-free product profile.

1AMS Annual Purchase Summary – Week Ending June 20, 2014

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