The Chicken Labeling Game:
I don’t know about you, but I feel like these days, it can be very confusing to buy meat products. There are many choices to choose from, and the labels can be confusing. Here is a list of common labels on chicken packaging in particular:
Free Range- USDA regulated term simply means the birds are granted access to outside. It doesn’t necessarily mean the chickens have a quality life. This could mean chickens are allowed a few minutes outside a day, or have an access to outside but may not actually get outside. A huge chicken warehouse with 1 small door at the end could technically be labeled as “free-range”. Cage Free can be confused with this term-technically all chickens, except those raised for egg production only, are mandated to be “cage free”, the actual quality of the environment of the chicken being out of a cage can vary though. Again hundreds of chickens crammed into a tiny living space, technically is still cage-free.
Certified Organic- To have this USDA regulated term the poultry must be “free-range” and all feed certified organic. The chickens food cannot have pesticides, animal by-products, synthetic fertilizers.
Raised without antibiotics- Seems self-explanatory, but though this means no antibiotics were given for disease prevention, it does not necessarily mean other medication were not used on the animal.
No hormones- This is a somewhat pointless label. The USDA has actually prohibited all poultry from getting hormones, so theoretically all chicken should be hormone free. But this does not mean certain companies don’t breed specifically for larger, oversized chickens.
Natural- This is very confusing term, and on A LOT of packaging. This has absolutely nothing to do how the animal was raised, only how the food was packaged. It means there are no additives only. But buyer beware regulation again is gray on this area and some broth additives I guess are allowed.
Certified Human Raised and Handled- This goes along with “free-range” or “pasture-raised”. The birds were raised with the option to engage in natural behaviors such as perching, pecking, scratching, and foraging for food. This is not a USDA regulated term- researching the company can be helpful to find out more on how the chickens were raised.
Overall, it can very confusing when reading package labels. Just like with marketing for any other food items catchy terms like “natural” or “free-range” can be used to make the buyer feel better about the purchase, or feel that the chicken source is healthier than others. In reality, it can all be a gimmick, and the regulation of the terms used is not always reliable. My suggestion is, if you really want to know where you chicken, or any meat product for that matter, comes from, research the company manufacturing it. And if you really want to know where your meat comes from, buy from a local farmer! Go straight to the source.
I’m always confused about the labels above, which is what motivated me to write this article. I hope it helps clear things up for you as well! Good luck out there families!