by Jean L Clavelle
Purchasing meat these days can be confusing if not overwhelming.
In the car, on the drive to the grocery store you hear ads offering specials on “grain fed” meat, then you stop at the coffee shop and see they are selling sandwiches using “all natural antibiotic free chicken”, finally at the meat counter you see packages labelled as “hormone free” and “free range” and “organic”. What does it all mean?! What’s the difference?!
Well Chicken Farmers of Canada was able to break it down for us.
Free Range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.
Free Run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.
Grain Fed Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of at over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.
Hormone Free and/or Steroid Free – Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.
Kosher products refer to the content and production requirements, not necessarily to any specific cuisine. In Hebrew, kosher means “fit” or “proper,” indicating that the food products meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law. The Jewish dietary laws are collectively known as the laws of kashruth and deal with what foods may be eaten together and how those foods are to be prepared.
During the processing stage, salt and water are used to prepare the chicken for market. The guidelines for kosher certification are strict and the product must still pass through government inspection in order to be sold in stores or shipped to restaurants. Kosher products are sold across the country and are widely available. For more information, you can visit the Kashruth Council of Canada at www.cor.ca.
Organic Chicken- Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with at certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.
Raised Without Antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit the Chicken & Antibiotics section on the Chicken Farmers of Canada website.
Vegetarian Grain Fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.
So now you know the real story and hopefully the next trip to the grocery store won’t be so confusing. For additional information or to see the whole article go to Chicken.ca.