Weight of the Nation poster

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What else has the FOCUS Learning Lab done?

Goodbye, chicken nuggets?

Recognizing the complexity of the science behind antibiotic resistance, FOCUS turned to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Agriculture (HHIF) for technical support. With HHIF’s help, the Lab drafted purchasing guidelines and an RFP template for institutional purchasers who want to buy chicken raised with a minimal, safe, and sustainable level of antibiotic use. The protocol called for in this document establishes a practicable “middle way” between unrestricted routine use and no use. It proposes common-sense reforms that are within reach for producers not in the “antibiotic-free” market— including growers that sell to USDA.

Chicago Public Schools and School Food FOCUS move toward healthier chicken

The FOCUS/HHIF antibiotic use guidelines call for much closer veterinary supervision.

What is “healthier” chicken?

What has Chicago Public Schools done?

What happens next?

Chicken is a longstanding priority for the FOCUS community of large school districts, which have identified it as a school food especially in need of reform. Our goal is chicken that is healthier for children. By “healthier,” we mean:

CPS and its primary food service provider, ChartwellsThompson Hospitality, asked the FOCUS Learning Lab to investigate options for healthier chicken.

With support from Pew, FOCUS will assist other districts that are interested in purchasing poultry produced without antibiotics or with minimal, safe, and sustainable use of antibiotics.

Already one additional FOCUS district, Omaha Public Schools, has just introduced a scratch-cook program, joining not just Chicago but Saint Paul, which began serving fresh local chicken in 2010.

FOCUS is developing deep and productive relationships with producers interested in serving this emerging market.

USDA, building on the success of the Chicago purchase of fresh commodity chicken, is promoting fresh-frozen leg quarters as a healthful and economical option for other districts that have the necessary infrastructure for scratch-cooking.

Healthier in the environment

with lower sodium and fewer or no additives

Raised in a way that supports the community’s well-being

The problem:

The problem:

Heat-and-serve chicken items common on school menus (nuggets, sandwich patties) are formed from chopped or extruded meat bound with additives and textured vegetable protein. They tend to be high in added sodium, required for flavor and moisture retention.

Antibiotics are routinely fed to farm animals that aren’t sick, to compensate for overcrowding and poor sanitation. This contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant disease. This danger exists not on the plate but in the environment, where it affects everyone, regardless of what they eat. Children are especially at risk.

Whole-muscle precooked chicken, available to schools through USDA Foods and on the open market, can be much lower in sodium and additives. However, it is too expensive for most districts to put on their menus every day.

FDA restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock production are not mandatory. They rely on the voluntary cooperation of an industry which has historically been resistant to reform.

Lab findings on the limitations of processed chicken led CPS to the pioneering decision to considerably expand its very small scratch cooking program.

Fresh frozen leg quarters were sourced direct from USDA and promoted to CPS kids by Rachael Ray, whose Windy City Chicken recipe generated excitement and rave reviews when first menued in October 2011.


served in

2 million lbs


of fresh-frozen chicken


2-3 times each month What’s in a chicken nugget? Soy filler, sodium, and a lengthy list of additives, many unrecognizable as food.


The World Health Organization warns of a “return to the pre-antibiotic era” as a result of antibiotic misuse and overuse.

• Antibiotics important in human medicine are routinely added to poultry feed in low doses, a practice that encourages the proliferation of drug-resistant pathogens.

Rachael Ray

Miller Amish Country Poultry welcomed the CPS Learning Lab team on a tour of its hatchery, farms, and processing plant.

Chicago Public Schools: The Results


In more school hallways across the nation, children will be tempted by the fragrance of “real” chicken at lunchtime—a delicious, memorable lesson in the virtues of fresh whole food!

Photo: Tim Sackton

Healthier on the plate

Additionally, 1.3 million pounds of fresh-frozen drumsticks were sourced from a local processor that contracts with Amish farmers who do not use antibiotics, introduced to the Learning Lab by Whole Foods Market.


no change in food or daily staffing costs

Poultry processors who share the FOCUS ideal for healthier on the plate and in the environment joined the FOCUS Annual Gathering in 2010 to discuss opportunities in the K-12 market.

Nebraska-grown Smart Chicken, raised without antibiotics, has been a hit with Omaha students.

Chicago school children dig into a whole-foods menu that stars fresh roasted whole muscle chicken accompanied by locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Supported by generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and a growing number of sponsors, individuals, and private funders.

Public Health Solutions 40 Worth Street, 5th Floor New York, NY 10013

School Food FOCUS (transforming Food Options for Children in the United States) is a program of Public Health Solutions.

Tel: (646) 619-6728 Fax: (646) 619-6777



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