As consumers, it is important to pay attention and stay informed regarding the different regulations that are set in order to guarantee we are eating safe and healthy food. In the case of poultry and meat, there are several laws and regulations that ensure we are not exposed to contaminated or unsafe products. Even when some producers accurately label what they sell, we need to understand some of the most common terms we might see when shopping for chicken.
One of the most common labels we tend to see when shopping for chicken is “free-range”. There is no federal definition of this term, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows producers to use this term when their chickens have access to outdoor open spaces for a part of the day. This practice is not required by law, but many producers opt for it in order to give chickens a more human and dignified quality of life.
“Farm-raised” is another term that tends to appear on chicken labels quite often. This tends to be quite misleading since all chickens are raised on farms and nowhere else, but the term is used to be perceived as a product of higher quality. When we see this term on restaurant menus, it usually means that chickens were grown on a local farm.
Under regulations of the USDA, chicken that is labeled as “natural” must be free of any artificial ingredients, coloring, or chemical preservatives. Therefore, the vast majority of ready-to-cook chicken products come with this label, as they are minimally processed.
One of the biggest hoaxes when it comes to chicken and other meat is that some producers use products on their animals to stimulate growth in short periods of time. However, the use of such hormones is prohibited under the regulations of the Food & Drug Administration. As a result, many producers label their chicken as “hormone-free” in order to be perceived as healthier and fresher meat. Yet, we must remember the use of hormones is prohibited by the FDA and no producer is allowed to use them.
The administration of antibiotics to keep chickens healthy is another myth that we need to stop believing. Farmers do use antibiotics, but only when it is necessary and approved by a qualified veterinarian. As a matter of fact, the FDA only allows the use of antibiotics when treating an illness, but the animals under the treatment must be separated from the rest of the population, and they must go through a detox program before leaving the farm. Otherwise, the FDA and the USDA would be required to take the corresponding action against farmers and producers who failed to follow such regulations.