As Americans consume 8 billion chickens per year, its important to be aware of the quality and types of chickens we eat: where they came from, how they were fed, how they lived, and what effects those all have on our health. The amount of information on a label can be unclear, so we're here to help clear things up.
Chickens are not raised kosher or non-kosher. All live chickens, no matter how they are raised, are all considered kosher. How and by whom they are slaughtered will determine whether a chicken can be labeled as “kosher” instead of the non-kosher chicken found in your local store.
Kosher dietary laws pertaining to chicken (and other meats and fish) go back thousands of years, and are written in the Torah. A kosher species must be slaughtered by a "Schochet" instantaneously, without pain. Nowadays, before the meat can be processed and packaged, the animal is further inspected. Kosher meat must be free of blemishes like deformations and small holes in the tissue. E ven non-Jews prefer to eat this type of meat for health reasons, and this extra handing is why kosher meat can cost 3-4 times as much as non-kosher meat.
In order to be certified organic, chicken farms must follow strict guidelines and undergo an annual inspection by a third-party certification body to ensure those standards are met. The birds must be raised organically no later than two days after they hatch, and they must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. Organic feed cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered grains, and cannot be grown using persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers. All birds must have outdoor access, and it is prohibited to give drugs, antibiotics and hormones to organic birds. Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising poultry.
Free range refers to a farming method where the animals, for at least part of the day, can roam freely outdoors, rather than being confined in an enclosure for 24 hours each day. Fee range farming usually allows animals more space to walk around, and more sunlight that they'd get than inside indoor housing systems. The free range label can apply to meat, eggs or dairy farming.
There is a diet where the practitioner only eats meat from free-range sources called ethical omnivorism. In ranching, free-range livestock can roam without a fence, as opposed to fenced-in pastures. In many agriculture-based economies, free-range livestock are very common.
The cage-free label only matters to egg laying hens, which are caged to make egg collection more efficient. Caging typically doesn't have any place in raising poultry for meat, and yet the cage-free label appears on a whole lot of poultry products. It may sound more humane, but it's really just marketing of the practices all poultry producers are already employing anyway. Cage-free simply means that the birds were able to "freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area."
No Antibiotics Administered
Poultry is often raised in large flocks, so when gets a disease, it can quickly spread to each bird. In order to control the passing of illness-causing bacteria, and to encourage birds to grow faster, producers might preemptively add antibiotic medicines to a flock's feed, instead of isolating the affected animals. These practices have cause controversy for many reasons, including the concern that traces of antibiotics may remain undetected in a bird's system by the time it reaches slaughter.
Like the cage-free label his is another example of producers advertising practices that are required by law. Since 1959, it has been illegal in the United States to administer growth hormones and steroids to poultry, after it was found that the hormonal treatments used on chickens at the time could affect humans.
But many poultry producers still label that their flocks never receive hormones, which must accompanied by "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones," that's usually located in very fine print.
These chickens are given entirely vegetarian feed, and don't receive antibiotics or hormones. Their diet mostly consists of grains and plant matter (corn, wheat, barley, oats, and sorghum are common), and is free of the sorts of slaughter byproducts that have been known to wind up in chicken feed as an unspecified "animal protein."