Do all the labels on chicken these days leave you wondering what it all means and even more confused as to what you should buy? Whats the difference between Organic, Cage-Free, No Antibiotics, No Hormones, No GMO’s & Natural? I want to help you make a well informed decision and know exactly what those labels mean.
So- Let’s talk chicken:
“Organic“- In order to be labeled “USDA Organic” the chicken had to have been fed not just a vegetarian diet, but a diet that does not include genetically modified ingredients or toxic synthetic pesticides. It also means that antibiotics can not be used for anything other than medically necessary antibiotics (though some argue that there are farmers who stretch the boundaries of what is medically necessary- for example, if one chicken is sick- they may treat surrounding chickens too as a preventative.) However, chickens can be provided with antibiotics during their first days of life; the drug-free rule kicks in the day after the shell breaks open. Organic certification, which requires annual inspections, mandates that access to the outdoors be provided for the chickens, but sets no specific standards for the size of the outdoor area, the size of the door leading between inside and outside, or the amount of time birds spend outdoors.
“No Antibiotics“- These chickens are never given antibiotics, including in the egg. That said, there is no inspection process to verify this label before it is employed.
“No Hormones“- This label can be used on all conventionally raised chickens in the U.S. as the use of hormones is not allowed in the production of chickens for market. So if you see “no hormones” on a label- it just means “chicken”
“Cage-Free“- Another label that is just touting the industry minimum. Meaning no chickens raised for meat in the U.S. are kept in cages. Neither does it mean that the birds have access to the outdoors. Therefore, it can mean that a barn could be stuffed from wall to wall with chickens not in cages and that’s it. It does not mean that they are ‘cage free’ roaming around a beautiful field of daisies.
“Free-Range“- The only difference between conventionally raised chickens and free-range is that the chickens have access to some sort of exposure to the outside. Once again, there are no standards for size of the outdoor area or for the door to the outside area, and inspections are not required to use this label.
“No GMO’s“- To get the “Non GMO Project Verified” label, the chickens feed must be comprised of less than 0.9% of genetically modified crops. Verification is required for this label.
“Natural“- This is dubbed as the most leading label of them all. When a survey was conducted more than half of the respondents said they believed “natural” meant the chickens didn’t receive antibiotics or eat feed containing GMOs. 42% of respondents said they thought the term meant the chickens were raised outdoors, while 1-in-3 said they thought it meant the same as “organic”. The only substantial requirement for “natural” chicken breasts is that they contain no artificial ingredients, but even then, there is no process to verify this claim.