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Posts Tagged ‘Organic’

When Good Intentions Result in a Big Fat Lie…

My local grocery store, regional chain Roundys, has started offering organic, free range, vegetarian, chicken.  Which I’m all kinds of in favor of.  I like the choice to buy, for an elevated price, humanely raised, chemical and antibiotic free, chicken.  I have a major problem with it though.

“What could that possibly be?”  You ask, with a shocked look on your face I assume.

Let me tell you.  You can’t have truly “free range” and “vegetarian” chicken.

I know, free range is a marketing term that in reality means that the chicken spends some time outside of its cage.  This is a good thing because it means that the chicken gets some exercise and grows much slower.

“Why is that a good thing?”

Well, normal cage raised chickens, who are given growth hormones and antibiotics in order to fatten up really fast, usually grow so fast that their seldom used legs cannot support their weight.  The result is that when the birds try to stand, they break their legs.  This is not a humane way to raise chickens.  So chickens that are “free range” at least have a fighting chance at a better life.  That said, factory free ranging is little better than caging chickens.

Factory free range chickens are usually kept in barns.  And there can be thousands of chickens in that barn, crammed in wing to wing, barely able to move about.  Certainly not the bucolic picture of the chicken coop with the hens and chicks scratching in the dirt outside with the rooster standing watch on a fence post.

This is the reality of terms like “cage free” and “free range”

They really can’t move around all that much, but at least they can move.  They also won’t suffer from broken legs or being debeaked.  Don’t even get me started on that barbaric, inhumane, despicable practice.  Unfortunately in those close quarters, they also can’t give themselves dust baths, which help them prevent lice infestations, they’re prone to easily transmitting diseases, and violent behavior and cannibalism are prevalent.   What does that matter though, they’re free range and cage free.

The other term I’m opposed to is vegetarian.

Chickens are not vegetarians.

Let me repeat that.  CHICKENS ARE NOT VEGETARIANS!

Chickens are omnivores.  Just like humans.  In those bucolic pictures of chickens in the farm yard, scratching in the dirt, those chickens are doing a couple of things.

First, they’re scratching up grit to eat.  Grit is just what it sounds like, dirt and small stones.  A chicken’s stomach, gizzard, is not really well suited to grinding up its food for digestion.  Beaks are not really meant for much more than cracking things open and picking thing up, and chickens have no teeth so they can’t chew their food.  Grit works through the muscle action in and around the gizzard to grind the food so the chicken can extract the nutrients from what they eat.

Second, the chicken is scratching looking for bugs.  Yes chickens eat bugs, they’re especially fond of June bugs I’m told by my chicken raising friends.

So, a vegetarian chicken just isn’t one hundred percent natural.  And the only way you can ensure that a chicken gets only a vegetarian diet is to make sure that it never has access to the soil.  Barnyard soil has all sorts of bugs and small creatures in it that chickens will happily eat for you.  What they’re really telling you when they say that the chicken is vegetarian is that the farmer is not feeding it any animal byproducts.

“What kind of animal  byproducts could they be feeding chickens?”

Good questions.  Because chickens being fed a diet of corn, greens and seeds need extra calcium, a common practice is to add ground up egg shells and bone meal to the food.  Now bone meal is nothing more than what it says, ground up bones.  Those can be beef, pork or even chicken bones.  And to boost the protein in their food, they’ll also add in things like eggs, and meat byproducts.  Again, meat by products can come from any thing; beef, pork, chicken, etc.  What do chicken farmers have in abundance to make bone meal and meat byproducts from?  You got it, chickens.  So between the egg shell, albumin, bone meal, and meat byproducts, is it any wonder that that chickens in over crowded conditions become cannibalistic?  This is also one reason why caged chickens are debeaked, if they don’t the chicken will start eating itself.  Now there is nothing natural about that.  That is simply a sign of an animal in severe distress.  One of the big problems with animal byproducts in animal feed is that it isn’t always the highest quality nor cleanest, as a result things like arsenic are added to the feed to kill parasites. So vegetarian only means that the chicken isn’t being fed anything but vegetables and grit.

But a vegetarian diet is not the chicken’s natural diet.  Even if the chicken isn’t caged, it won’t be as healthy as a chicken allowed to eat bugs and scratch in the dirt.

Given all the above, what should we really be looking for in chicken.  If you’re willing to buy the organic, free range, vegetarian, chicken for a premium from the grocery store, take the extra step and go to a farmer’s market.  The chicken there is usually a little less expensive than the grocery store organic chicken, even if it is vegetarian.  But talk to the people selling chicken there.  Ask them how their chicken is raised and what its fed.  Specifically ask if the birds are pastured and allowed time outdoors in the sun and dirt.  If they are, the birds will do what comes naturally and eat the plants and bugs.  By the way, also ask your egg man these same questions.  The eggs will be so much more flavorful.  Did you know that a pastured, and properly fed, chicken’s egg will have a yoke that is almost orange rather than yellow.  It will also be naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids.  You know the stuff that’s good for your brain, heart and arteries.