Shopping for chicken is not as straight forward as it used to be. Chicken labels, facts, nutrition and tastes between organic and regular chicken can get confusing. Therefore, what is the difference between organic chicken and regular chicken.
Organic chicken must be fed 100% organic feed, raised with no antibiotics and must have outdoor access. Regular chickens are unrequired to be fed organic, are allowed to be treated with antibiotics and unrequired to have outdoor access. Organic chicken is more expensive and labeled with the USDA Organic Seal.
This article will dive into greater detail of the differences between the two. In addition, I’ll examine if there are any differences in nutrients, taste and texture between organic and regular chicken. This breakdown will help you make the most informed decision when choosing one or the other or provide you with answers to curious questions.
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What Makes Organic Chicken “Organic”
Organic chickens are only allowed to eat 100% certified organic feed. This includes organically produced grains, additives, forages and feed supplements. Water additives, minerals and vitamins must be FDA approved.
Antibiotics, animal by-products, synthetic preservatives and GMO derived products are not permitted in any feed products. Any agricultural substances like soy oil or molasses must be certified organic 1.
The feed must be free of animal drugs or hormones to promote growth. Any kitchen or garden scraps must also be certified organic.
Living conditions must provide the following:
- Adequate ventilation.
- Adequate supply of clean water.
- Housing must provide access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh air and direct sunlight all year.
- Adequate protection from predators.
- Exercise areas.
- Bedding like hay or straw must be certified organic.
- Chickens cannot be confined in a way to prevent lying down, standing up, extending the limbs fully and moving about freely.
- Outdoor access can be restricted due to inclement weather or conditions which would jeopardize the health or safety of the chicken.
Organic chicken farms require annual inspections. Although chickens are required to have access to the outside, the standards do not tell farmers exactly how much room the chickens need to have access to 2.
Treated lumber may not be used for construction contacting the soil or chickens.
For slaughter, a certified organic slaughter facility must be used.
The land used for pasturing must qualify for organic certification.
- Chickens must be provided with the opportunity to exercise, have freedom of movement and reduction of stress.
- Preventive vaccines and other veterinary biologics are allowed.
- Performing physical alterations when needed for the chicken’s welfare is allowed, taking care to minimize pain and stress.
- Withholding medical treatment to maintain organic status is not allowed.
- Labeling chicken as organic treated with antibiotics, a synthetic substance not on the National list or any prohibited non-synthetic substance is not allowed.
Organic chicken must be from a chicken which was under continuous organic management from no later than its second day of life. The chicken must be labeled with the term “100% organic” or “Organic” and contain the USDA organic seal 3.
What Makes Regular Chicken “Regular”
Regular chickens do not have to have outdoor access. They may be confined indoors and inside battery cages. These cages houses more than one chicken inside the cage with very little room for movement.
They receive less exercise and don’t experience much sunlight.
Regular chickens may be given antibiotics to help keep them healthy or to treat them for illness. Regular chickens do not receive any hormones, although no chickens are allowed to be given hormones since the 1950s 4.
Due to their living conditions, regular chickens are more susceptible to infections and diseases. This may result in more antibiotic use. In addition, these chickens are more likely to be more aggressive and experience more stress.
A regular chicken may not be confined indoors. A free-range chicken, although they are not organic and consume regular feed, have access outdoors like an organic chicken does. In addition, a regular chicken may be antibiotic free, but not fed organic feed.
Organic Chicken vs Regular Chicken Nutrient Comparison
Organic chicken and regular chicken contain a similar number of minerals and vitamins 5. Their protein content is also the same. The difference between organic and regular chicken is the amount of fat contained in the skin 6.
Approximately, organic chicken contains 5-13% less fat in the skin than regular. Although once the skin is removed, both chickens have similar fat content 7.
Some previous studies determined organic chicken contained slightly more fatty acids than regular chicken. Even though, the number of omega-3 is a small number to begin with and doesn’t give organic much of an advantage 8.
To answer the question, which is more nutritious, organic or regular chicken?
Organic and regular chicken contains a similar number of minerals, vitamins and protein. Organic chicken contains less fat in the skin but once the skin is removed both contain a similar number of fats.
A study by Stanford University, released in 2012, found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods 9.
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Organic and Regular Chicken Tastes and Textures
What is the difference in taste between organic and regular chicken? Most studies indicate there is no difference in taste and texture between organic and regular chicken. In blind taste tastes, the participants showed no preference between the two types of chicken.
Some studies, where the participants already knew which chicken was which, organic chicken tasted better to most people.
Since organic chicken contains more fat in the skin, the difference in taste may be greater if the skin is left on the chicken compared to skinless.
Can Organic Chicken Substitute for Conventional Chicken? Organic chicken and regular chicken can substitute for each other in recipes. The taste and texture are similar and the same cooking methods can be used for both types of chicken.
When substituting one chicken for the other, follow these tips:
- Always use the same part of the chicken required in the recipe.
- Use the same weight of the chicken.
- If the recipe calls for skin or skinless, keep the same for the substitute chicken.
- Keep the cooking temperatures and time the same.
Organic Vs Regular Chicken: Which Costs More?
When you are purchasing any kind of chicken, be sure to check the label to see if the chicken is organic or regular. This makes a difference with cost. In addition, your area, store and brand of chicken changes the price.
Therefore, which is more expensive, organic or regular chicken?
Organic chicken is 36% more expensive than regular chicken. The average cost for organic chicken is $7.82 per pound while the average cost for regular chicken is $5.76 per pound.
I checked my local Shoprite supermarket and found the following prices for organic and regular chicken:
- Organic boneless, skinless chicken breast
- $6.99 per pound
- Organic boneless, skinless, thin sliced chicken breast
- $7.99 per pound
- Organic boneless, skinless chicken tenders
- $8.49 per pound
- Regular boneless, skinless chicken breast
- $6.72 per pound
- Regular boneless, skinless, thin sliced chicken breast
- $5.29 per pound
- Regular boneless, skinless chicken tenders
- $5.29 per pound
Organic chicken will always cost more than regular chicken, and it has good reason for this increased price. Raising organic chickens is more time consuming and resource intensive than raising regular chickens.
The soil, land, structures and feed all cost more to maintain and purchase.
In Walmart I checked the prices of canned cooked regular chicken versus organic. The organic costs around $8 for one 5 oz can versus regular canned chicken of the same size costing only around $2.
As you can see there is a significant price difference in most organic versus regular chicken items. This will remain the same no matter what store you go to.
Dangers Of Antibiotics In Chicken
What are the risks of eating regular chicken injected with antibiotics?
Injecting chickens with antibiotics may make the chickens “drug resistant” which means bacteria will still be able to survive in the chickens after being treated with medication. The bacteria can then be transferred to humans when consumed.
According to the CDC, more than 600,000 people a year develop an antibiotic-resistant infection each year from something they ate. This may be a good time to ask, is organic chicken really better for you?
Organic chicken is better than regular chicken due to its never treated with antibiotics or any drugs. Organic chicken is fed with healthier organic feed and is allowed access outdoors living with less stress. Organic chicken skin contains less fat, saturated fat and calories than regular chicken skin.
Organic Vs Hormone Vs Antibiotic-Free Vs Chicken?
Even though you’ll see hormone free on chicken labels, it’s been illegal to be given to chickens in the United States since the 1950s. This is for good reason as it is simply unnecessary. Hormones do differ from antibiotics though, as we know it is illegal to give chicken hormones, but what about antibiotics?
Antibiotics in chickens as of January 2017 are illegal for simply the intent of them gaining weight and can only be used for addressing diseases. Therefore, chickens can still be given antibiotics but not nearly as much as they used to. They even have to go to a withdrawal period before they are used for food.
So now we know hormones are illegal, and antibiotics are used sparingly for diseases. In addition, all organic chicken is hormone and antibiotic free versus regular chicken where they possibly may have been previously treated with antibiotics 10. What does free-range chicken mean? Are all chickens free-range?
Free Range & Organic Versus Caged & Regular Chicken
All organic chickens are free-range but not all free-range chickens are organic 11.
Caged chickens, sadly, have poor living conditions like smaller enclosures which cause their stress levels to be higher making the chickens more aggressive. Due to not having to let the caged chickens roam, they spend more time in their cages which get dirtier faster.
This can result in an increased risk of infections and the use of antibiotics 12.
Free-range chickens don’t necessarily have better living conditions. Yes, most of the time they are allowed more room since they are able to go outside but the standards don’t say how much room they have to be allowed.
Therefore, it could just be a small fenced off area without grass, depending on the farmer 6.
Organic chicken must be free-range, but as we know might not mean much depending on the farmer. Regular chicken is not required to be free-range 13.
Therefore, while we don’t always know the conditions, we can hope that organic/free-range chicken is treated better and can be supported when organic is bought.
Other Chicken “Terms” To Be Weary Of
“Natural” “Farm-raised” “Fresh” “No added hormones” “Pasture-raised” all mean absolutely nothing. Don’t let this trick you when you are buying organic, ethically sourced chicken, or anything for that matter 14.
When breaking this down, the claims that a companies chicken is “natural” just means the chicken doesn’t contain artificial ingredients. The chickens were fed non-GMO food and did not receive antibiotics. This does not speak to the chickens living conditions.
“Farm-raised” and “Pasture-raised” is also very misleading as every chicken is raised on a farm technically and the claim “pastured-raised” is that the chickens have access to the outside.
We know that is unregulated, so it could be for as long as few minutes a day in a small, crowded space like inside where they live.
“Hormone-free” is misleading as we know all chicken is hormone-free. They are just using this to make them seem better than their competitor when in reality they may not be.<
“Fresh” this claim just means it just hasn’t been frozen up to that point. Fresh chicken does usually mean better tasting since it hasn’t been frozen but it needs to be eaten sooner versus frozen chicken.
Frozen Organic Vs Regular Chicken
Though most organic chicken doesn’t come frozen, it comes fresh and it’s okay to freeze it. Frozen chicken is safe to eat as long as it is kept at the right (frozen) temperature up to 12 months. As far as taste and quality goes it is best to be eaten after 3-4 months.
Regular chicken can be sold as “fresh” or frozen. Though regular frozen chicken is usually cheaper than regular fresh chicken and their nutritional values appear to be similar.
Frozen chicken does stay good longer than fresh and despite common myths, frozen chicken is not more processed than fresh, regular chicken.
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- USDA: Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means
- USDA: Guidelines for Organic Certification of Poultry
- USDA: How is use of the USDA Organic Seal Protected
- Oregon State University: Feeding Meat-type Chickens
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effects of organically and conventionally produced feed on biomarkers of health in a chicken model
- SFGATE: Organic Vs. Free-Range Chicken
- Nutrition Value: Organic chicken breast by Valley Fresh
- National center for Biotechnology Information: Free Dietary Choice and Free-Range Rearing Improve the Product Quality, Gait Score, and Microbial Richness of Chickens
- Stanford: Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, study finds
- SFGATE: The Benefits of Organic Free-Range Chicken
- USDA: Agricultural Marketing Service
- Organic Trust CLG: Organic Or Free Range – Is There A Difference?
- USDA: National Organic Program
- National Chicken Council: Chickopedia: What Consumers Need To Know