Most consumers rely on the government or supervisory authorities to regulate claims about food. For example, we know to look at the ingredients on a package to see what is in it and we know that the ingredients are listed in order of how much of the ingredient is in the product.
But did you know that chicken product labels are not all regulated? And what do the labels actually mean? Here’s what you need to know.
Free-Range – this only means the chickens are allowed access to the outside, not that they use it. The National Chicken Council says that chickens tend to stay close to their food and water source, which are located indoors.
Hormone-Free – this label is empty as hormones are forbidden in chicken by the US Department of Agriculture.
Natural – this is an empty word and a marketing ploy. Products that use minimal processing and have no artificial ingredients or added color can use this label. Chicken products already meet this definition, so the word is meaningless.
Claims That Have Meaning
Raised Without Antibiotics – are chickens raised with never having antibiotics. Why is this important? There is widespread belief that antibiotic use on farms contributes to the antibiotic resistant infections among humans.
Organic – the USDA has very specific and comprehensive requirements for use of the label organic. In the case of chickens, this includes eating organic feed, which drives up the cost of the chicken when it goes to market. However, there is no nutritional advantage and the living conditions of the birds are not necessarily better than for conventional chickens. Some consumers say they have a more robust flavor.
Vegetarian Feed – this means that the chicken feed has no animal by-products. Since chickens are omnivores (eating insects and bugs), the label is meaningless. To appease shoppers, most farmers use corn and soy in their feed.
Source: “Decoding the Labels” Cooking Light, July 2016