Chicken terms defined part 1
In our first series of blog posts I want to define some confusing terms like cage free and free range, and in a sense expose what they do or don't mean. I also want to define the terms our farm uses when we describe poultry, Pastured, Heritage, GMO and Soy free.
First off let's tackle the labels put on supermarket poultry. It's also important to note that labels are managed by the USDA and to carry labels (like the ones below) you have to process at a USDA facility. Farms like ours who process on farm cannot legally "claim" any labels on our packaging.
1. Free Range or Free Roaming.
Birds are allowed access to the outside (meat birds, not egg layers). No specific amount of time outside or stocking density is required. So basically this means the bird is not living in a cage, and has access the the outside. But no specific amount of space or time amount is required. The pictures below represent what a Free Range facility could look like. The USDA offers no specifications on this regulation, in my opinion, because it is not enforceable.
Contains no artificial ingredients or added colors. Meets no requirements for feed, antibiotics, or pasture. In other words this does not mean anything.
3. No Hormones.
The USDA (or USDU as JS likes to call them) does not permit the use of hormones in Poultry. So then why is the "no hormones" lable used on some supermarket poultry? Marketing!!
4. Unregulated terms "cage free" and "pastured".
Say what? Unregulated? Yes, to carry these terms you still must process at a USDA facility but the USDA gives no legal definition for the term "cage free" or "pastured". And to my knowledge the USDA has no regulatory policy regarding cage free eggs. Usually the label, "cage free", is used on hens that are not kept in battery cages but instead are housed in large overcrowded sheds.
5. USDA Organic
In order to be labeled organic, poultry must be raised with organic methods starting no later than the second day of life and have year round access to the outdoors. We have looked into this label for our poultry. For us it does not make sense financially right now. To carry this label you have to process at a facility (vs on farm), and it costs to carry the label. But what is means is the producer is supposed to feed the bird certified organic feed, and of course no antibiotics. And again "access" to the outdoors...
What free range and organic do not mean!
- Very little regarding welfare standards. Birds can still be shackled in processing, have their beaks cut off with a hot blade (with no pain killers), and live crowded lives. And remember birds are cannibalistic so when crowded they will constantly peck at the smallest bird, or a bird with a small wound. Crowded poultry is ALWAYS inhumane.
- "Access" to the outside is loosely defined and from what I can tell not really enforced. One thing the average consumer assumes is these chickens want to go outside. That is something I'll deal with in future blog posts, but the American meat bird has been bred to live in confinement.
- It's NOT what you have in your mind. These labels tend to carry with them a nostalgia of a romanticized farming operation. Beautiful lush pastures and mobile chicken coops (like you saw on Food INC). That's far from the truth. These labels are carried, mostly, by the large scale commercial poultry industry.
- They are making a pretty penny off of you. Yup that's right. You think Cage Free and Free Range means something special so you're willing to pay the extra $2.00 for the eggs. When in reality it's not that much better than the battery cages and large corporate facilities. It is better, but it's not what we've been lead to believe.