Bill aims to keep hormones out of school food

April 30, 2009 5:56:28 PM PDT
There is a bill in Sacramento that would prohibit schools from serving any kind of food treated with antibiotics and hormones by 2012. While many parents would be on board with this legislation, it is getting a lot of criticism from most farmers and school districts.

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The San Francisco Unified School District claims it serves some of the healthiest meals in the country. State Senator Dean Florez of Bakersfield says the district can do better.

"Absolutely they can do better. If they are serving meats with antibiotics in them, it isn't the healthiest meal," says Florez.

If his bill passes, by January 2012 all California schools must serve foods that are not treated with antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, MSG or fillers.

"We have eight barns in production out here, all raising organic birds," says Mark McKay of Petaluma Poultry, an organic farm which does not use antibiotics. "Because the birds don't need them."

McKay says too many poultry companies use antibiotics unnecessarily.

"They are basically adding antibiotics as a... always trying to take care of anything that might happen to the flock even before its happened," he says.

He claims his chickens are healthier because of what they eat -- only organic -- costing three times more than conventional feed.

If San Francisco Unified had to buy more all-natural products, the staff says they would have to make cuts elsewhere.

"Salad bar would certainly be one of them. We might have to move with less fresh produce and go back to more frozen in the meal-pack and some of those concepts," says nutritional services director Ed Wilkins.

Another argument is that the use of antibiotics in animals could introduce new antibiotic-resistant strains into the human population.

"There is no solid evidence with this. I mean, there are many studies that are going on and it's very controversial, but I think that if there is even a question, we should consider removing it from the diet," says Sharon Meyer, a nutritionist at California Pacific Medical Center.

Domenico Carinalli is a dairy farmer in Sebastapol. He says when he uses an antibiotic like penicillin, he can't sell the milk for at least 96 hours.

"There is absolutely no antibiotics or pesticides in any milk. Every load of milk is checked when it gets to the creamery. If by any accident, there is any in there, the whole load is condemned," says Carinalli.

The one thing he does not favor are synthetic hormones, used to help cows produce more milk. The synthetic bovine growth hormone was introduced in 1985, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it. The FDA determined the meat and milk derived from cattle were safe for humans to consume.

However, today more and more dairy farmers are staying away from this synthetic hormone because consumers do not want it.

Florez is hoping this kind of response from consumers will also help push his bill forward.

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