Everyday Cheapskate: Chicken Labeling at the Supermarket: Prepare to Be Surprised
If you've ever stood in the supermarket wondering if paying more for chicken that is free-range, antibiotic-free, no hormones added, farm-raised, natural and organic is going to make you healthier, wealthier, wise -- or just a better person -- you're not alone.
Recently, as I was doubting myself on my chicken choices, I decided to get to the bottom of what all of this really means. It's not what I thought.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a cabinet-level agency that oversees the regulation of food-grade chicken and is responsible for the claims on packaging and labels.
And despite all of the hype and fluff, there is only one label -- organic -- that guarantees specific standards and for which you might consider paying more.
Briefly, here is what all of it means -- or doesn't mean -- according to the USDA.
There is no specific definition for free-range. For sure, it does not mean, "running free to forage for grubs and grain on acres of rolling green pastureland."
The USDA generally allows this term if chickens have access to the outdoors for at least part of the day, which could mean a matter of a few minutes, whether that chicken chooses to go outdoors or not.
A single open door at one end of a huge chicken warehouse meets this definition of free-range. Even so, "Less than 1% of chickens nationwide are raised free-range," according to the National Chicken Council.