Cover Story: School lunch - healthier choice?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - CBS Evening News examined the problem of how antibiotics fed to livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention can wind up in our food supply.

We wanted to take that investigation a step further, and look at the specific risks to children. Many of them are provided school lunches featuring meat from animals that can be pumped full of antibiotics.

Cabarrus County is taking steps to cut that meat out of their school lunch program.

You probably don't think much about what's in the meat that winds up on your child's lunch table at school but after tonight's Evening News report you might.  In our Cover Story what one local school district is doing to serve food that's antibiotic free.

Tina Farmer is not only a mom but also the Child Nutrition Director for Cabarrus County schools.

In both jobs she tries to put together the healthiest menu for her kids at home and at school.

"We're always looking for something good for our students that they will enjoy," she says.

Knowing that hamburgers and hot dogs are kids' favorite foods and aware when she went shopping that there are healthier alternatives out there, three years ago she and Cabarrus county school's registered dietician decided they could do better by the hamburgers and hot dogs they were serving to the district's 28,000 students.

"We knew that if we made it healthier that would make it even better. any way that we can sneak in the healthier foods for them we try and do it."

As Tuesday night's Evening News report showed factory farmers typically mix low doses of antibiotics into animals' feed and water to promote their growth and pre empt outbreaks of disease.

That can spread to our food supply which is why some districts like Cabarrus county's have begun serving hot dogs and hamburgers that are antibiotic free, with no hormones and preservatives.

Says Farmer, "Once you find out that there are bad things in there that there are side effects that could affect us later on with out health.. then you try and make conscious decisions to make choices."

Problem is it cost more and there are few companies out there.  (The one who pioneered it Coleman Natural Foods supplies Cabarrus county.)  Hot dogs are 25% higher than an average dog.  Hamburgers can run 40-to-50% higher.

And since school lunch programs are self funded receiving no money from the state districts on a budget have to weigh all the costs.

Tina Farmer told us Cabarrus county found a way to make it work by balancing it out with cheaper food on other days of the week.

She says, "I know that with the tight economy and budgets being tighter it is a difficult choice to make.. but it's something that we did decide to do a few years ago and we've made it work for our county."

Question is will more districts look for meats that are antibiotic free?  Tina Farmer thinks there will be more in the future as people learn more about what's in our food.

What children are eating is getting more attention in Washington.  First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday launched a nationwide campaign against childhood obesity.. and the Agriculture Secretary Monday announced several new initiatives to assure the safety and quality of the food purchased for the school lunch program.