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Is Organic Chicken Better?

by Clare Delaney

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:

Bacteria

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.

Antibiotics

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.

Additives

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

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Will

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.

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Clare Delaney

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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