By: Leanne Ely
Ever find yourself in front of the chicken display at the market trying to figure out the difference between free-range, pastured and organic? And whether buying the more expensive organic chicken is worth the extra money?
We recently had a reader write in and ask for help deciphering the confusing labels we see on chicken packaging, so I’m going to do just that.
There are several different claims you see made on chicken packaging:
No hormones added
Raised without antibiotics
So, what do they all mean? Which one do you buy? Here’s a brief overview . . .
Organic. An “organic” label on your chicken doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your most humane option. Organic chickens have eaten feed that was grown without chemicals or GMOs, and the USDA goes to great lengths to ensure that chicken labeled “organic” has been produced 100% free of chemicals. However, the chicken wasn’t necessarily raised in a nice, happy environment.
Natural. Natural chickens have no artificial ingredients and no added color. Really, all chicken is natural, so if it’s raw chicken, that should sort of be a given.
Cage-Free. This sounds like the chicken in question had a nice and happy life. But “cage-free” just means that the chickens live inside warehouses or barns, not in a cage. They can walk around and nest, but they’re rarely let outside.
Free-Range. Free range chickens are allowed to go outside for at least part of the day. They generally have an enclosure, but they are given access to the outdoors.
Pastured. This is the one you want to buy. Pastured poultry has been allowed to hang out in the great outdoors eating its natural diet under the sun. Essentially, these birds have been raised humanely outdoors (as chicken should be).
No hormones. The USDA does not allow for hormones in raising poultry. When a package of chicken claims there are “no hormones added,” that statement must be followed by something that says, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
Raised without antibiotics. We want to avoid ingesting as many antibiotics as possible, and most factory raised chicken are pumped with antibiotics to prevent the need to deal with illnesses in their birds.
Ideally, you’re going to want to look for organic, pastured chicken from a local farmer.
My favorite chicken can sometimes be found in a crock cooker making me dinner while I do something else! Check out our Crock Cooker Club!