If you are looking to clean up your diet and have started paying attention to food labels, it’s important to understand what the labels truly mean. Often food labels are misleading and used more for marketing purposes than informational purposes. I have created a series of articles to help you navigate the tricky world of food labels. This article is about understanding food labels you see on chicken. Find out what terms such as free range, cage free and non-antibiotic really mean.
The label for no antibiotics is defined and regulated by the USDA and covers both meat and poultry. As we become more aware of what we are putting into our bodies, the demand for antibiotic free meat products has been on the rise.
Purdue has essentially lead the way in trying to breed chickens that are considered No Antibiotics Ever (NAE). The first obstacle to overcome was figuring out how chicken farmers could raise antibiotic free chickens and keep them healthy.
Stage one consisted of integrating chickens that were raised with antibiotics and non-antibiotic chickens. The non-antibiotic chickens were still getting antibiotics from pecking at the other chickens.
Eventually, through improvements in sanitation measures, Perdue was eventually able to raise NAE chickens without the help of antibiotics. However, Purdue acknowledges that even if they are raised to be antibiotic free, animals still spread bacteria within the confines of their stockyard. Often certain medicines are still added to the feed or water in order to prevent disease and bacterial outbreaks.
After doing some research, I discovered that the USDA requirements for these labels is very loosely worded. Before purchasing a food product that is humanly raised do some research and find out how the company defines humanly raised. There is no required definition for humanly raised, your version, my version and a farmer can have 3 different ideas as to what humanly raised means. When I see or hear the term free range and cage free, I automatically picture chickens flocking around the hillside.
Free range or free roaming are only defined by the USDA for poultry and eggs. The birds need to have access to the outdoors and allow them the freedom to act like a chicken. Depending on how strongly you feel about free range, try doing the research before purchasing your chicken. The term outside is not clearly defined by the USDA, so it’s possible that the outside area for the chickens may only have room for 5% of the flock and could just be a fenced in cemented area. As a side note, USDA does not have any third-party inspectors to check up on the free range claim.
Once again, when we see cage free we often picture chickens roaming around on a hillside. Cage free can be a misleading statement. Several cage free chickens may not have access to the outdoors and may be raised under crowded conditions. Chicken can still have the cage free label and the farm is still allowed to practice beak cutting and starvation forced molting. Instead of looking for the cage free label try looking for pastured or pasture-raised.
Approximately 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used in meat and poultry production. The antibiotics are used to promote growth and prevent disease in unsanitary and crowded conditions.
How does antibiotic-free and Pasture raised chickens impact our health? The answer is simple, we are what we eat. The scientific community is concerned that when we ingest too much antibiotics, our bodies will begin to build a resistance to them.
When working with clients, one of the first steps in my integrative health coaching process is educate about food labels. Understanding what you eat is the first step to making better food choices.