Red meat has traditionally been Australia’s favourite meat, but we’re now eating half as much lamb as we were in the 1980s and two-thirds the amount of beef, twice as much pork, and nearly 2.5 times as much chicken. Worldwide consumption of chicken was 13.2 kg per person in 2014; pork was 12.6 kg, yet Australians devoured 49.3 kilograms of meat per person in 2014, 170 grams more per person than the Americans.
Worldwide, chicken is now the world’s favourite meat, and trying to find out exactly how the chicken you’re eating was raised and fed isn’t that easy. Labelling certainly doesn’t make it any clearer. So, what do we need to look for when buying and eating chicken?
Animals raised for food aren’t given the same legal protections we give to dogs and cats for example. There’s nothing preventing farmers to perform surgical procedures like beak trimming or tail cutting without anaesthetics. They are also allowed to inhumanely raise them in extremely cramped conditions where they can barely move. This can lead to a lack of mobility and increases the incidence of sickness, skin diseases and the ability to access food and water. This stress created in the chickens can lead to increased disease and the increased need for antibiotics, not to mention ‘stunted’ meat is devoid of taste and lower the nutritional value.
Other welfare issues include birds’ inability to express natural behaviours such as scratching, foraging and dust bathing, and access to perches. It’s also permitted for chickens to be kept under continuous lighting for 23 hours a day.
Many of the antibiotics fed to mass-produced chickens are identical to the ones given to humans. Overuse of antibiotics has lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, increasing the potential for human disease.
Buying certified organic poultry is the only way to be sure the animals you’re eating haven’t been fed GMO feed, using the four main GM crops — canola, cottonseed, corn and soy.
‘Free-Range’ chickens technically have access to the outdoors, but this doesn’t mean they actually go outside. Typically, meat chickens don’t go outside until they are fully feathered, around 21 days old, and begin to be harvested when they reach slaughter weight at about 35 days old. This means that, free range might mean only 14 days at most might be spent outside.
There are no laws requiring the birds to be active and to express their natural behaviours either. No pecking objects, perches or bedding in which to dust-bathe, or any laws requiring a dark period that’s long enough so they can rest properly. Like Free-Range chickens, 23 hours of continuous light is allowed. 4 hours for RSPCA’s Approved Farming Scheme, 8 hours for certified organic chickens.
Just seeing ‘free-range’ on the packet doesn’t mean the birds are actually free-ranging. It’s important to choose certified free-range products. Certification means farms are subject to third-party audits so shoppers know that certification standards are being upheld. You’ll see a symbol from the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association (FREPA).
Btw, Free-range doesn’t mean they can’t be fed GMO feed and antibiotics. It only means they have ‘access’ to the outdoors. Free range or not, the amount of birds allowed per square metre is 40 kg, which is about 20 birds at a harvestable weight of two kilograms each.
Organic animal products all come from free-range animals, that have access to pastures and pesticide-free food for their entire lives. So, in a way, organic, free range, RSPCA and Eco’ all overlap. Organic chickens eat organic feed and the use of antibiotics, GMO feed and feed made from other animal parts cannot be used in organic chicken farming. Thriving in a stress-free environment, this makes all the difference in the world in terms of their health, nutritional value and taste. 8 Hours continuous darkness is required so they ca get adequate rest.
Organic chicken farming has a strict focus on environmental sustainability, animal welfare and protecting the habitats of native animals. Be sure to be certified organic poultry. The Australian Certified Organic “bud” logo is the most recognisable of the logos.