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Free-Range Chicken: Grand Slam or Grand Scam?

Let me be honest. I always buy free-range chickens and eggs from “cage-free” hens. I’m also increasingly suspicious of whether those terms means anything.

In an ideal world, the chickens that we eat would run around on small family farms, pecking away at the ground to forage for their natural diet of worms and insects and all the other omega 3 rich foods they would naturally eat. They’d get exercise, so they wouldn’t be so fat. They’d come from organic, conscientious farms so their bodies wouldn’t be filled with the growth hormones and antibiotics that the poultry industry uses on factory-farmed animals.

But this is farm from an ideal world. Chickens are among the most abused animals on the planet. They’re packed by thousands into filthy sheds, and each chicken has about as much space as a sheet of paper. They are fed massive amount of antibiotics and drugs, including hormones to make them grow large and fast. They’re typically slaughtered at seven weeks or less, years short of their normal life span.

Free range and organicare labels we hope would assure us that the animals we eat had a life different from the one I just described. Free-range animals, in principle at least, are permitted to roam freely and live in natural surroundings. But unfortunately, there are few regulations on the term free range, and you can be pretty sure that it’s only a matter of time before the term becomes so diluted that it loses any real meaning. To give a “free-range” certification, the USDA simply requires that chickens have access to the outdoors. The key word is access. Often “access” simply means a little “doggy door” that few chickens even recognize, let alone use.

But yes, with all that said, I still buy free-range chickens. I like to hope that I have a better chance of getting a bird that had some semblance of a normal life, eating its normal diet, and ultimately – dare I hope slaughtered humanely. Free-range, organic chicken – if it really is free-range – is a healthier, tastier meat with less of toxins I’d rather not have in my diet.

(source: The Healthiest Meals on Earth by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.)

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