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October’s 31 Days of Real Food-Day 11

by Olivia Furlow

Day 11-Let’s talk about chicken…

 

Natural

I’ll start with probably the most useless label in the bunch. The gist of the label is this: no artificial colors, flavors, or other ingredients, no preservatives and “minimal processing.” Pretty much anything in the meat aisle that’s left unflavored would qualify. An example of this is that poultry can still be pumped up with a salt solution and still have the “all natural” label. So the label means nothing and is just a bunch of healthwashing propaganda.

Free-Range

Important note: this isn’t the same as pastured. Essentially, this label indicates that the birds weren’t raised in cages. The rest is a question mark. They likely had limited access to the outdoors, and they might have still lived in crammed conditions common to industrial poultry farms. According to USDA rules, free range denotes a mere five minutes of open air access per day, which could mean a small gate was open to a paved lot. The criteria of the guildlines are absolutely ridiculous. C’mon USDA, really?! 5 minutes! Unless you know your farmer and their raising methods, I’d say this label is pretty meaningless.

100% Vegetarian Diet

Chickens aren’t natural vegetarians. They forage on bugs when left to their own devices. This label shows that they didn’t have access to pasture, but it does indicate that the chickens were fed grains and possibly grasses. The important part is that their feed didn’t contain animal byproducts. Which can mean ground up animal parts and feces! If a chicken isn’t pastured, the non-vegetarian part of the feed is likely animal by-products. Need I say more?

Pesticide-Free

Although you would think this would be just for the feed, guess again. Chicken houses, especially large industrial farming structures, are subject to the infestation of all kinds of pesky critters like lice and rodents. As a result, repeated doses of insecticides are part of most poultry’s existence.

Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered/Antibiotic-Free

This label is promising that their chickens didn’t receive antibiotics at any time. Farms are suppose to remove sick animals from the herd and then refrain from selling them under this label. You may also see “Raised Without the Routine Use of Antibiotics,” which means antibiotics could have been given for treatment of illness but not for preventative measures.

Raised Without Added Hormones/No Hormones Administered/No Added Hormones

Given that U.S. law prohibits the use of growth hormones in poultry birds, consider this another useless label.

Pastured or Pasture-Raised

This is the label I suggest! Pastured means that the chickens lived on pasture and get some of their food from the pasture environment. This usually means that they get about 20% of its food from pasture source (grass, seeds and bugs) and 80% from grain/grasses feed mixes (corn, oats, soybeans alfalfa, clover, etc.). Having a relationship with your farmer gives you the opportunity to ask what they use for feed. Chickens, unlike cows, don’t have the digestive ability to live on pure grass. Including fresh pasture sources in their diet naturally boosts the nutritional content with vitamins like vitamin E, folic acid and B-12 as well as more omega-3s in the poultry. Even though pastured chicken might not be labeled antibiotic-free, it’s likely the farm doesn’t use medication. It’s extra work to pasture chickens. This indicates a greater commitment on the farmer’s part. Also, the chickens are less likely to need antibiotics when they live on a natural diet with plenty of space.

Organic

This is a label truly worth it! To use this label, the farm must meet USDA standards and be officially certified through the USDA. Here’s what the label promises:
100% organic feed, no animal byproducts, no hormones, no antibiotics, outdoor access, no pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers, no sewage sludge (yes, you read that right), no synthetic pesticides, and no GMO.

Jumping through the hoops for organic certification/recertification is no small or cheap venture. Because of this some farmers have chosen to run their farms with fully organic practices., often times stricter than organic but without USDA certification. Instead, they chose to go by individual relationships with consumers and businesses and by their reputation in the region. Other farmers associated with the label purposefully relinquished their certification to protest the shifting “culture” of the organic label as large industry-owned farms make up an increasing percentage of USDA organic certifications.
Nicole from Danda Farms and I discussed this and it all comes down to buying local and knowing your farmer! I am so glad I am getting to know our local farmers 🙂 Not all farms are created equal.

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