On March 8, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted to become the first school district of its size to require hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken in its school meals. More than 732,800 students are enrolled at LAUSD’s 1.274 schools.
The full changes go into effect in fall 2017.
The switch to “clean chicken” is the workings of the district’s Good Food Procurement resolution, spearheaded by school board president Steve Zimmer. The resolution requires that LAUSD fully adopt Good Food Purchasing Guidelines, as defined by the LA Food Policy Council. The guidelines stress the importance of local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.
LA Food Policy Council’s environmental sustainability standard specifically calls for the avoidance of hormones and antibiotics in meat.
The move comes at a vitally important time, as antimicrobial resistance is a topic on the minds and lips of lawmakers and health experts the world over. Bacteria resistant to antibiotics threaten to send medicine back to a darker time. Unnecessary antibiotic use in farm animals is one of the 2 main causes of antimicrobial resistance. The other is over-prescribing of drugs.
Many school districts around the nation are taking an interest in environmental sustainability, and LAUSD collaborates with school districts in New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and Orlando in swapping ideas concerning food policy. All 6 school districts are part of the Urban School Food Alliance (USFA), which has the goal of changing school meals for the better.
LAUSD’s change is expected to have ramifications on a national level, and the USFA hopes that if other school districts follow in the group’s footsteps, it will become less expensive to serve lunches with antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken. Until that dream becomes a reality, LAUSD will have to spend a bit more.
Laura Benavidez, co-director of food services for the District, says LAUSD will pay 67% more for chicken from its new supplier, Gold Star Foods, based in Ontario, Canada. The new deal is for 5 years and worth $20 million. 
The school district’s previous contract was with Tyson Foods. Understandably, the poultry producer was not happy. In a statement to LA School Report, Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company was the first to qualify for the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use certification from the USDA. Mickelson added that the company is striving to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017, while planning to report on progress annually. Tyson will also be sourcing its pork meat from pigs raised without antibiotics.
But part of LAUSD’s break with Tyson Foods may have to do with the importance that the Good Food Purchasing Guidelines places on animal welfare. Last year, the anti-animal cruelty group Mercy for Animals released footage it had secretly recorded of Tyson Foods workers punching, throwing, and pulling the heads off of live broiler chickens at one of the company’s plants in Mississippi, among other brutal offenses. 
LA Unified serves more than 3.1 million meals a day. The menu includes chicken teriyaki and chicken drumsticks. Over the past decade, the school board has required meals to contain less fat, salt, and sugar, in addition to more fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat-free options. Sodas and junk food are not sold at any of the schools.
 USA Today
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.