Is Organic Chicken Better?

Is it Worth Paying More?


Organic Chicken versus conventional chickenNormally, organic chicken is more expensive than normal or conventionally-raised chicken.  This is generally because it costs more to produce organic chicken – normal chickens are raised in vast quantities with economies of scale and less labour.

The question is, is it worth paying that premium for certified organic chicken?

The choice is yours.  But you can only make an informed decision if you know all the facts.

Here they are, one-by-one:


Organic chicken frequently has higher levels of bacteria present then conventional chicken.  However, organic chicken does not normally contain drug-resistant bacteria (see Antibiotics below).

The good news from our (consumer) point of view is that these bacteria are normally killed off when we cook chicken, as well as by normal handling precautions such as washing our hands and cleaning knives and chopping boards.


Because conventional chickens are squeezed together while growing indoors, they’re more likely to develop infectious bacteria.  This could of course cause serious losses for the farmer / producer.  So normal chickens are routinely fed anti-biotics to keep them disease free.

There is nothing illegal about this; many anti-biotics are approved for use with chickens.

There is however a growing concern about the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, due to such widespread use of anti-biotics.

Organic chickens grow in less crowded areas and thus do not have such high risk of disease.  They are not fed antibiotics.  (Should disease occur which requires antibiotic treatment, it is administered and then the chickens are no longer classed as Organic).

Nutrition and Taste

organic chicken tasteOrganic and conventional chicken are both good sources of protein.  Some studies have shown that organic chicken has higher levels of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids; however, chicken breast meat has a low fat content so the difference isn’t necessarily significant.

There’s no strong argument either way for chicken nutrition.

Also, there is little or no taste difference between conventional and organic chicken.


Conventional chicken (which by the way includes “natural” chicken – “natural” is not regulated and essentially means nothing), often has salt, water and preservatives added to it.   Organic chicken producers are not allowed to add anything.

GMOs and Chemicals

organic chickensOne of the biggest arguments in favour of organic chicken is that the production cannot involve

  • GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
  • Non-approved synthetic chemicals
  • Sewage sludge as fertilizer

Animal Welfare

Conventional chickens are crowded together, and over-fed to reach slaughter-weight quickly.  Such rapid growth leads to heart and leg problems for the birds.  They are never allowed outside and are handled by people paid a minimum wage who are often not animal lovers.

Organic chickens must have living conditions which allow healthy and normal chicken behaviour – outdoor access, sunshine, and space for grooming and exercise.

An issue I have with some producers of organic chicken is that they follow all the rules for organic chicken farming, but then have their birds slaughtered in conventional processing factories.

The Environment

Raising chickens organically is better for the environment, particularly in terms of greenhouse gases and waste management, but also for energy conservation and water resources.

So, Is It Worth It?

The choice is yours to make.

From a nutritional point of view, there’s very little difference between organic chicken and conventional or ‘natural’ chicken.

If you want to avoid GMOs, anti-biotics, additives and synthetic chemicals in your food, and /or if you prefer animals to be treated more humanely, then you’ll want to pay the premium for organic chicken.

If you do wish to buy certified organic chicken, try to source local birds which are slaughtered more humanely and in better conditions than processing factories.

If you can’t go organic on every food item you buy, you may find it more beneficial to buy organic fruit (especially apples, peaches, strawberries, spinach and peppers) because these have the highest pesticide residues.

Tips for Safe Eating

conventional chickenNo matter what kind of chicken you buy, these common-sense tips can help rid your poultry of bacteria that can make you sick:

  • Keep chicken well-wrapped and chilled,
  • Wash your hands before and after handling raw poultry
  • Keep chopping boards and knives clean
  • Cook chicken to 165 degrees F or 74 degrees C.

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 Photo Credits: all Microsoft

4 comments… add one

  • Jeffrey Carter Mar 28, 2015, 3:21 am

    First, the government has not allowed hormones or steroids since the 60’s, which does not matter because all living animals (humans included) have hormones. Also, we American have the safest food in the world. In addition, most animals are not treated inhumanly because farmers realize the better they treat their animals the more money they make. I have been to chicken farms, pig farm, dairy farms, these animals have it better than we do. Also, a chicken lives for the most 7 weeks, with all the food and water they need, nice and cool in the summer and warm in the winter, they have it made. Look at statics in 1925 18% of poultry died it took 3 months to raise a 3 pound chicken with 6 pounds of feed, now we raise a 6 pound chicken in 6 weeks with less the 2 pound of feed and only 2% mortally rate.

    • Clare Delaney Apr 3, 2015, 2:10 pm

      Thanks for your comment, and you are right when you say that farmers in general treat their animals well. Sadly however, the vast majority of the meat on supermarket shelves is from animals not raised by farmers but in factory farms or CAFOs.
      Around the world, about two-thirds of farm animals are raised in factory farms.

      Currently, factory farming represents the majority of animal farming globally.

      Take chickens for example – only 0.4% of birds were produced by independent operations (Economic Information Bulletin – The economic organization of U.S. Broiler Production, Macdonald, J. 2008). Conditions in factory farms ensure that animals definitely don’t “have it better than we do” as you say – more below.

      I’m not sure why you say that the US government does not allow hormones.

      Some 80% of pigs in the US are given ractopamine, a growth hormone which is banned in 160 countries around the world, but approved for use by the FDA. Ractopamine increases muscle, which is good for the meat business, but not for the pigs whose huge muscles cause them great discomfort. They also become irritable and aggressive and thus pose a threat to anyone working with them. In addition, it is allowed to be fed to them right up until it’s time for them to be slaughtered – no mandatory clearance time means that there is no time for the hormone to be flushed from the animal’s body. We humans do indeed have hormones, but I don’t believe we need extra via our food.

      Factory-farmed dairy cows in the US are injected with rGBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to force greater milk production. rGBH is a genetically engineered artificial growth hormone originally developed by Monsanto.

      6 growth hormones (3 natural and 3 artificial) are used in beef production. (Raloff, J. (2002) Science News, 161(1)). An estimated 80% of all US feedlot cattle are injected with growth hormones. According to the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health (SCVPH), the use of growth hormones in beef production poses a potential risk to human health. The committee found that “no acceptable daily intake could be established for any of these hormones”. The European Union does not allow hormones in beef production. The US does. The US cannot export hormone-treated beef to Europe because it’s banned there.

      The statistics you quote show that we do indeed raise larger animals more quickly while cutting food costs, but at what cost to health?

      To come back to factory farms and the conditions the animals live in. You’re right when you say they’re given as much food and water as they need (although I question if it’s the healthiest food for them). Let’s look at the “normal” conditions they exist in.

      Factory farmed dairy cattle are generally kept in either:
      1) tie-stall barns, where they spend their life tethered by their neck to a stall;
      2) free-stall barns, where cattle are kept indoors and provided stalls for milking and rest;
      3) dry lots, which is an area with no vegetation where the cattle are kept between trips to the milking barn.
      In all of these situations, cows are kept in high concentrations and often suffer diseases of the feet from standing on concrete or in their own manure. The high milk yield that modern cows produce often leads to significant levels of mastitis, a painful udder disease. As they cannot graze, cattle are given feed which usually contains some straw and grass, but also added protein from “by-product feedstuffs” that can include meat and bone meal, an inappropriate food for herbivorous (vegetarian) cattle. They are then slaughtered by workers doing a grim job earning low wages who have little respect or care for the animals they are killing – abuse cases are widespread.

      Chickens raised for meat are generally crowded into large sheds that can hold tens of thousands of birds. Because they are bred to gain weight quickly, many birds are crippled by their own weight and unable to walk. They need to be given regular antibiotics to stop the spread of disease in such close quarters. (Such widespread use is leading to antibiotic-resistant “super bacteria”).

      It’s no better for laying hens (who produce eggs). Male chicks are typically macerated (ground alive) or dumped into plastic bags left to suffocate, because they can’t produce eggs. The females have the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot iron to prevent the stress-induced pecking of other hens. They stand in cages with sloping floors (to make the eggs easier to harvest). The cages are mostly made of wire-mesh which cuts their feet, rubs off their feathers and bruises their skin. Layer hens’ bones become brittle due to inactivity, and one in six lives with the pain of a broken bone.

      Yes, we all have differing views about the degree of comfort and freedom that farm animals deserve. But I think most people can agree on a minimum standard of cleanliness and space, and that animals should not needlessly suffer.

      Sadly, the basic structure of factory farms is at odds with the overall well-being of the animals they raise.

      Confining as many animals indoors as possible maximizes efficiency and profits, but it also exposes the animals to high levels of toxins from decomposing manure. Feeding animals an unnatural diet rather than letting them graze and forage on open land simply adds to their health problems.

      Personally, I don’t believe it’s right that animals should be kept in the conditions they experience in factory farms.

      And that’s why I believe organic meat is worth the premium, from both an animal welfare and a human health point of view.

  • Will Feb 18, 2013, 7:28 am

    I agree with all the arguments for pro-organic chicken in principle. The downside is, I think, that we do not have the physical space nor the correct levels of control at certification level for sufficient rearing of organic chickens to actually make a significant difference.

    • Clare Delaney Feb 18, 2013, 9:34 am

      Agreed, the food industry as it stands is not geared towards large-scale organic farming. I don’t think organic will ever become “mainstream” so the control and space issues probably won’t become an issue. I also think that if even just a few more chickens are raised in humane conditions rather than highly commercial, it makes all the difference in the world to them! Thanks for your comment!

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