CHICAGO – On Nov. 1, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) began serving local chicken raised without antibiotics to students in 473 schools. This development comes following a fresh chicken purchase direct from the US Department of Agriculture earlier this fall.

The Chicago district's new scratch-cooked chicken program includes approximately 1.2 million lbs. from Amish farms that do not use antibiotics, for a total of about 2 million lbs. of fresh chicken in the 2011-12 school year. Students will be offered bone-in chicken two to three times per month.

Made through foodservice provider Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, CPS' enormous purchase of chicken grown without antibiotics is the first of its kind, according to a news release. No other district in the US is serving this kind of poultry regularly at such a scale.

Chartwells and CPS have been engaged in researching the use of antibiotics in poultry production since September 2010, through their participation in the School Food FOCUS (Food Options for Children in the United States) Learning Lab. Chartwells decided to buy chicken raised without antibiotics for Chicago schools with research and consulting support from the Learning Lab and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming (HHIF). Negotiations with the producer, Miller Amish Country Poultry of Orland, Ind., were facilitated with help from Whole Foods.

"Whole Foods Market is thrilled to be a part of this initiative,” said Rich Wolff, Midwest Region Meat Coordinator, Whole Foods Market. “By offering a high-quality product from a vendor that we deeply believe in – Miller Poultry, who produces our Pine Manor antibiotic free chicken – to the 300,000-plus Chicago public school children, we're able to demonstrate our commitments to local communities and our vendors, which is extremely important to us."

To help other districts follow Chicago's lead, the FOCUS Learning Lab and HHIF have developed purchasing guidelines for institutions and a Request for Proposals (RFP) template that any school district can adapt for its own use, available at the School Food FOCUS website.

"We are very pleased to be able to make these huge purchases of fresh chicken," said Bob Bloomer, who oversees Chartwells food service for CPS. "It's been great to have the support of the federal government, our not-for-profit partners, and advocates in the food industry. This collaboration is an excellent example of public and private partners working together to promote the health of Chicago's school children."

"I want to ensure that CPS children have the best nutritional options possible because it impacts their ability to be more successful in the classroom," said CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. "Offering fresh chicken on school menus is another step we've taken to improve the quality of food served to our children and we will continue to bring more fresh, high-quality food options moving forward."