On my restaurant menu the other night was this description for Five Spices Chicken:
“Roasted steroid and antibiotic free semi-boneless chicken......”
Does this strike anyone else as weird and unappetizing? While I’m pleased the chicken is steroid and antibiotic free, what a commentary that we have to write that on a menu description. All chicken should be steroid and antibiotic free, but the reality is conventionally grown chicken is injected with growth hormones and antibiotics and often tainted with harmful bacteria. The steroids are used to make them grow quicker and plumper, and the antibiotics are a preventative measure to counteract the problems of being raised in confined quarters on big factory farms. Furthermore, conventional chicken feed is loaded with pesticides. All of this is passed onto us when we eat conventionally raised chicken.
The good news is that we are aware now of these problems and healthier choices do exist. The many healthy choices you find in a supermarket however, can be overwhelming, confusing, and often without proper varification. Below is a list from Consumer Reports explaining the various labels, which you should find helpful.
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 any 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 may argue that there are farmers who stretch the boundaries of what is medically necessary). However, chickens can be provided with antibiotics during their first day 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 the 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 in 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, says CR. “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.”
Free-range: The only difference between conventionally raised chickens and free-range is that the chickens have access of some sort to the outside. Once again, there are no standards for size of the outdoor area or for the door to the outside, and inspections are not required to use this label.
No GMOs: To get the “Non GMO Project Verified” label, the chicken’s feed must be comprised of less than 0.9 percent of genetically modified crops. Verification is required for this label.
Natural: CR dubbed this one “the most misleading label” of the bunch, as more than half of the survey respondents said they believed “natural” meant the chickens didn’t receive antibiotics or chow down on 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.
If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch Food Inc, an eye-opening documentary exploring the way food has changed in the last 50 years and not for the better. It’s well worth the watch.
The bottom line when eating chicken? Eat locally grown and organic whenever possible, as with most foods.
Some information compiled from: http://consumerist.com/2013/12/19/organic-chicken-is-different-than-antibiotic-free-and-natural-means-nothing/
For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.