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Why Organic Chicken Rules The Roost

In my most recent recipe post, I chose an “organic” bird to make my paleo Lemon & Herb Roasted Chicken – but what exactly does organic mean when it comes to poultry?

(Photo Credit: Matt Gillivray via Flickr/Qmnonic)

(Photo Credit: Matt Gillivray via Flickr/Qmnonic)

Personally, I think organically-raised chicken tastes better – but that’s just me.

More importantly, I believe it’s safer to consume than conventional, non-organic chicken raised on industrial farms.

According to statistics from the National Chicken Council, the average American will consume an estimated 83.5 pounds of chicken this year!

And for many of you, I know poultry is a staple in your paleo diet. That’s why I think it’s important to know exactly what you’re putting on the family dinner table.

For this post I did a little research into what it takes for poultry to be certified organic according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and how organically-raised chickens differ from most of the conventional chicken you’ll find in your supermarket.

Hopefully this information will help you make a more informed choice about the poultry products you buy. 

First of all, you should know chickens aren’t real picky eaters. When allowed to forage naturally, they’ll eat just about anything from grass and clover, to insects and worms.

paleonewbei-USDA-organic-label-200x200Organic chickens get access to the outdoors to hunt and peck, but most organic chicken producers routinely supplement their flocks’ diet with plenty of commercial grain.

However, the feed for organically-certified chickens must be:

• Free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

• Contain no drugs of any kind, including antibiotics (the same goes for the birds themselves – organically-raised chickens can’t be treated with an antibiotic for a disease or infection)

• Contain no animal byproducts

• And the chicken feed must have been grown free of persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers

A conventional chicken factory. (Photo credit: farmsanctuary.org)

A conventional chicken factory. (Photo credit: farmsanctuary.org)

On the other hand, non-organic chicken producers typically house their birds in warehouse-like barns with about half a square foot of concrete or dirt floor space per chicken. In many cases, the chickens never set foot outdoors.

Those cramped and stressful living conditions are why most non-organic chickens are fed commercial grain laced with antibiotics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Oh but it gets worse. It was only last October that the FDA banned three of of the four poultry feed additives on the market that contain arsenic – yes the poison!

But not to worry, we’re told the arsenic is organic and safe for indirect human consumption.

A fourth arsenic-laced feed contains the drug nitarsone and is still permitted in the food supply of non-organic chickens. (According to the FDA, arsenic compounds make chickens grow plumper, their flesh appear pinker, and also reduce the amount of feed the chickens need to eat.)

But that’s not all. In a study by Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University conducted a couple of years ago, they found domestically produced non-organic chickens may also be getting a good dose of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), as well as an antihistamine (used in Benadryl), along with a class of antibiotics that were specifically banned by the FDA over 9 years ago (fluoroquinolones).

Yikes!

Those are just some of the reasons why I’m personally willing to forgo those little luxuries like a morning trip to Starbucks in order to spend a few more dollars on higher quality, organically-raised poultry.

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