Happy chickens make happy and nutritious meat. Chickens that are exposed to fresh air sunshine and lots of green space are less stressed because they are living the way chickens are intended to live. Chickens were never meant to live in over crowded conditions with little room to move, and no access to outdoors. These confined, warehouse-type environments make chickens unhealthy and unhappy.
While the USDA does not allow chickens to be treated with hormones, antibiotics are permitted if chickens become ill. According to regulations, the drugs must be withheld for a certain time before slaughter. However, both pesticides and antibiotics have been been found in chicken fat.
Understanding chicken labels can be incredibly confusing. Here is a brief description of the different types of chicken on the market today.
Organic Chicken – Chickens who receive the USDA Organic label must be raised in accordance with guidelines set by the USDA National Organic Program Standards. This includes conservation, biodiversity, attention to renewable resources and no use of pesticides or herbicides. Poultry that is certified organic must have access to outdoors, direct sunlight, freedom of movement and be entirely antibiotic and GMO free. Organic chickens must also be “free range.”
Free Range Chicken – Any poultry operation that allows chickens some free time outdoors can claim the free range title. However, this can be somewhat ambiguous because there is no set amount of outdoor time given. Free range chickens can also be exposed to pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics.
Pastured Chicken – Although the term “pastured” is not recognized as a legal term it normally means that birds are kept in coops at night and allowed to forage on grass, worms and seeds during the day. They may also eat grain but have a much wider variety of foods than conventional chickens. Their life is also less stressful because they have ample outdoor space.
Antibiotic Free – Poultry raised without the use of antibiotics may be labeled as antibiotic free. These chickens may or may not be free range.
All Natural – This label really holds no meaning when it comes to quality, no matter how good it sounds. Natural is a word that gets thrown around by food manufacturers but there is no official regulation of its use. The only thing it means regarding chickens is that nothing was added to the bird in the form of coloring or flavoring after slaughter. Naturally enhanced or naturally flavored may even mean that the chicken was filled with broth made from its bones or has sugar added.
Pastured Organic Chicken is Healthier
Free range, organic chickens raised without antibiotics have a far superior nutritional profile to those raised in confinement. Chickens need to forage, this is a natural instinct, and when the ability to forage is removed it has major implications on the health of the chicken which translate to meat quality. Chickens raised on pasture have higher levels of vitamin B12, vitamin E, folic acid and omega-3’s than other types of chicken.
Factory-raised chickens eat food loaded with strange substances that make them grow round and plump. By comparison, free-range organic chickens are quite small but don’t let the size fool you. Free range organic chicken is tender, tasty, antibiotic and chemical free.
Find a Local Source
The best possible choice is to purchase pastured organic chicken from a local farmer or co-op or raise your own. If you can not do any of these, purchase organic chicken from your grocer. Although it will cost a little more than conventional chicken, it is well worth the price in taste, nutritional quality and peace of mind.
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