There’s a sign outside my local grocery store touting, “All-Natural, Antibiotic-Free Chicken Breasts.” It makes me a little upset every time I see it. Why? This kind of marketing lingo is a very sneaky way to make feedlot, grain-fed chicken sound like a healthy option. It’s technically accurate, but it would be more accurate to say “Confined, Feedlot Chicken fed GMO grains.”
It’s easy to be fooled by the cleverly worded poultry labels, so let’s take a closer look at what some of them mean:
100% Vegetarian Fed: If the chickens were fed a 100% vegetarian diet, then this means they weren’t allowed outside where they could eat bugs, worms and other insects. So what were these confined, 100% vegetarian chickens being fed? Most likely GMO corn and soy. Chickens are omnivores, so a vegetarian diet isn’t an ideal diet for a chicken.
Antibiotic-Free: “‘Raised without Antibiotics’ on a package of chicken indicates that the flock was raised without the use of products classified as antibiotics for animal health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Animal health products not classified as antibiotics (such as some coccidiostats, which control protozoal parasites) may still be used. “Antibiotic-free” is not allowed to be used on a label but may be found in marketing materials not regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It means the same thing as “Raised without Antibiotics.” All chicken is “antibiotic-free” in the sense that no antibiotic residues are present in the meat due to the withdrawal periods and other precautions required by the government and observed by the chicken companies.” – National Chicken Council
No Hormones Added : This label means no hormones were given during the life of the animal. By law in America, poultry and hogs cannot receive hormones, so this label leads a consumer to believe the company has done something extra, when in reality, they aren’t allowed to give added hormones in the first place. In the 1940s it took 14 weeks for a broiler to reach slaughter weight. Today, it only takes around 39 days.” So one can only assume something is being added to the feed. If it’s not hormones, what is it? I’m skeptical.
Free Range: “There is no specific federal government definition of “free-range” so the USDA approves these label claims on a case-by-case basis.” The label simply means the animals are allowed access to the outdoors for a specified period of time – in some cases only five minutes, but it’s not a guarantee they actually went outside.
Natural: Currently regulations regarding the word “natural” apply only to meat and poultry products. “Natural” means the meat or poultry contains no artificial ingredients or coloring and is minimally processed. So as you can see, this label doesn’t necessary explain how the animal was raised.
Organic: Today “USDA Organic” means the food was produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the feed was not genetically modified. (This definition will of course change over the coming years.) The feed is to be 100% organic, allowed year-round access to the outdoors (I can’t find reference to how much time they are actually outdoors), and managed without antibiotics, added growth hormones, animal byproducts, or other prohibited feed ingredients. Farmers and food produces are allowed to use fertilizers and pesticides from natural sources.
Pastured: Unfortunately, “pastured” isn’t a legal term yet, so you need to do your homework, but in general the chickens are allowed out onto the grass to eat bugs, worms and other insects. They may be kept in a cage at night, but then allowed to roam during the day. They also may be supplemented with grains. Remember, just because a label says “pastured” doesn’t mean they were eating an organic diet, raised without antibiotics, etc. If you want to know for sure if the chicken was raised on pasture, then it’s best to talk to the farmer.
Does this mean we shouldn’t eat meat? I don’t think that’s the answer. I think we should be mindful of how our meat was raised. The nutrients in a pastured, organic chicken are very different than a conventional, grain-fed chicken. Remember, “pastured” should mean raised out on the pasture eating bugs and worms and getting the benefits from daily sunshine.
Organic, pastured chicken is high in omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, CLA, and other nutrients. A conventionally raised chicken is higher in omega-6 fatty acids – excessive amounts of which can cause inflammation – and lower in omega-3 fatty acids. Conventional chicken also doesn’t contain as many beneficial vitamins and minerals when compared to pasture-raised poultry. The Eat Wild website has some great information discussing health benefits of grass-fed/pastured meats, dairy and eggs.
Most stores don’t sell pastured, organic poultry yet so it’s best to purchase directly from a farm. You’ll save a lot of money, too! To find a farm near you check out Eat Wild. If you’re still having trouble finding a local source, start asking friends and neighbors. Every time we’ve moved, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many options I was able to find. I also love to occasionally order meats from Tendergrass Farms – their chicken wings are the best on the planet!
Today’s recipe, Grilled Lemon Chicken with Tomato and Feta Salad, is an easy grilled chicken dinner you can make in about 30 minutes. The lemon marinates the chicken very quickly, so it only needs to sit for about 10 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, cut the tomatoes and toss the salad. It’s a great option for these hot August days!
Grilled Lemon Chicken with Tomato and Feta Salad
For the Marinade:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the Salad:
2 cups cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped oregano leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Celtic sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whisk 1 tablespoon lemon juice, garlic powder and olive oil in a small measuring cup. Please chicken breasts in a single layer in a large baking dish. Pour marinade over the chicken and let the meat marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature.
Preheat the grill to medium. Grill chicken for 4-5 minutes per side until cooked through.
Toss tomatoes, feta, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve salad on top of chicken.