Is Organic Chicken Really Worth It?

Organic, free range and cage-free are terms tossed around wildly in the chicken world. We know that chickens need more than just food and water to be healthy and, today more than ever, consumers care about the way their food is grown. Organic chicken is hard to come by, but when you can find it, is it worth the price?

With the average American consuming 93 pounds of chicken annually, I would say that seeking out better chicken is incredibly important. But how do you read the labels? Chickens raised in a cage-free environment and served only a natural diet grow bigger, are nutritionally richer, taste better, and, frankly, are raised more humanely. Terms like “all natural” are not regulated, so don’t rely on labels like this to make your selection. But some labels are significant.

Antibiotic Free: The use of antibiotics causes more issues than just what it might do to your body. According the World Health Organization, the use of antibiotics in animals at any time in their lifespan is contributing to the risk of superbugs, which can cause illnesses in humans who eat them. Look for the label to say “antibiotic-free” or to have a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label.

Certified Humane is another label that is found on meats as well as eggs and dairy products. To carry this label, it must meet the standards set by the Humane Farm Animal Care, a non-profit organization “dedicated to improving the lives of farm animal in food production from birth through slaughter.”

Humanely Raised or Free Range: Animal care is critical, which is why we only purchase our chickens from one supplier who works directly with family-owned farms, Perdue Farms. They have a four-part program to accelerate our progress in animal care by giving chickens what they need and want, strengthen farmer relationships, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continuous improvement.

Typically, to earn this label, chickens simply have to have access to the outdoors, but that does not guarantee they will spend time outdoors when food, water and other chickens are inside.

Organic: To boast the USDA National Organic label, poultry must be raised with no antibiotics, fed 100% organic feed and given access to outdoors. Gaining certification costs farmers money because organic feed costs more and they must rehabilitate their soil so it passes strict organic standards, so plan on paying more.

Fresh: This basically means that the chicken has never been cooled to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, which in my opinion is not a good thing. At Duke’s, we always purchase frozen chicken—yes, frozen. We all know that salmon frozen at the source preserves the nutrients, freshness and taste. The same is true of chickens.

Meaningless labels: Many terms are either unregulated or meaningless, such as the term “hormone-free,” since the FDA and USDA made adding hormones to poultry and pigs illegal in 1952—it’s like calling water gluten free. Perhaps the greatest confusion is with “all-natural.” The USDA defines “all-natural” food as “minimally processed and contains no preservatives or artificial ingredients.” But that term does not mean that the animal was raised humanely or without antibiotics.

So, is organic chicken better for you? At Duke’s, we believe so. A recent study in France of 68,000 people who regularly ate organic foods were 25% less likely to develop certain cancers. Wow! So just by eating organic, we’ll live longer and lower our risk of cancer. Why wouldn’t everyone want that? While science is still studying all the benefits of organic, we know for sure that it’s better for our animals, soils, and our planet.

However, with less than 1 percent of the overall market share (in a $30 billion industry) being organic*, finding organic can be difficult. If it works for your family, supporting growers who follow these strict standards will help the entire industry step up.

Then we can all have chickens that are truly “DukeWorthy.”

*Statistic from the Washington-based National Chicken Council

September 17, 2019
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