More and more organic products are coming to market. Organic food sales increased almost sevenfold between 1997 and 2011. Many consumers wonder if these foods, certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are superior. In the meat category, organic chickens are raised far differently than regular chickens. The feed for organic chickens must be grown without chemicals or genetically modified organisms. The chickens must be free-range, which means they are allowed outside. They also must have more living space than conventionally raised chickens. As a result, you will find some differences between eating organic and inorganic chicken.
Organic chicken is more expensive. If you compare the prices of organic and nonorganic chicken, you will almost always find that the organic chicken costs significantly more. One 2011 study found that grocery stores charged almost 50 percent more for organic chicken. Raising chickens with an organic approach is far more time-consuming and resource-intensive due to the USDA guidelines concerning food, grazing area, land and plant maintenance, waste disposal and resource conservation.
Professional food tasters found differences between organic and regular chicken. During a 2013 Italian study, trained taste testers found that although conventional chicken was more tender, it was also more fibrous. Researchers also noted differences when they gathered opinions from ordinary consumers. Prior to the test, most expected they would prefer the taste of organic chicken. When consumers knowingly compared organic and conventional chicken breasts, participants preferred organic chicken. In blind taste tests, however, participants showed no significant preference between the two types of chicken.
Hormones and Antibiotics
You do not ingest hormones or antibiotics with organic chicken. If farmers want their products certified organic by the USDA, they cannot give their chickens growth hormones or antibiotics. Although no chickens raised in the United States can be given hormones legally, organic farmers must prove their animals have not been treated with either hormones or antibiotics. Antibiotics are regularly given to nonorganic chickens because their close quarters encourage the spread of disease. But antibiotics are not magic, so a few food-borne illnesses can still spread from conventional chickens to consumers. In addition, some researchers theorize that overuse of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.
Other Nutritional Differences
The nutritional research on organic chicken is not definitive. Some evidence indicates that organic poultry has more of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A Stanford University study examined the conclusions of a great deal of research comparing conventional and organic chicken. No significant vitamin or mineral differences were found between the two, although research is still ongoing.
The organic chickens you consume had a comparatively good quality of life. Conventionally raised chickens spend most of their lives in small cages, while their organic counterparts must have a great deal of pasture access. Organic chickens not only get the chance to move freely, but they also eat insects and vegetation such as weeds to supplement their organic feed.
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Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.