Confusing chicken labels decoded
Read labels carefully. Terms are sometimes misleading, and chicken produced in different ways are often sold next to each other (in packages labeled “natural” and “no antibiotics,” for example), according to a new Consumer Reports shopping survey. For more details about these labels and others, go to GreenerChoices.org.
Organic: The chicken was fed a vegetarian diet with feed produced without genetically modified organisms or toxic synthetic pesticides. Chickens cannot be organically raised with antibiotics, though they can be treated up until their first day of life. Access to the outdoors is required, but there are no specific standards for the size of the outdoor area, the size of the door leading there, or the amount of time the birds spend outdoors. Annual inspections are required.
No antibiotics: Never given antibiotics, including in the egg. “Raised without antibiotics” means the same thing. No inspections are required.
Certified humane: The chickens are raised according to guidelines from Humane Farm Animal Care. There are standards for the environment the birds are raised in and for minimizing their stress and injuries during transportation and slaughter. They may or may not have access to the outdoors. Annual inspections are required.
No hormones: Hormone use is prohibited in chickens, so even if a product doesn’t come with this claim, it will be free of added hormones as well as steroids.
American Humane Certified: Requirements to minimize stress and suffering of the birds are very close to the basic industry standard. Birds are not required to have access to the outdoors. Inspections are required.
Cage-Free: Essentially meaningless. No chickens raised for meat in the U.S. are kept in cages. Neither does it mean that the birds have access to the outdoors. No inspections are required.
Natural: Meaningless. The product is minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients, but no inspection is required to verify that.
Free-range: There is no definition of “outdoors.” And there are no requirements as far as the size of the outdoor area (it can be a small concrete slab), the size of the door to the outside, or the amount of time the birds spend there. Chickens can still be raised in crowded conditions. No inspections required.