Another Case for Buying Organic Chicken

November  4, 2015

There are a lot of things I don't buy organic: milk (as one of the most-regulated grocery store products, non-organic is often just as good) and bananas (the peels guard from pesticides, right?) being two of them. But one place I rarely waver is in the meat aisle.

More: We put the best roast chicken recipes to the test to find the perfect one.

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While the low price-tag on non-organic chicken is enough to tempt me out of the organic aisle for a moment when I'm feeling especially thrifty, there are too many reasons to spring for organic and free-range chickens. And today, Quartz announced yet another reason to buy organic chicken: Industrial chicken farming is fueled by under-paid workers operating in terrible conditions. Here are five additional reasons we like to buy organic, free-range chicken: 

1. It's better for the environment. Industrial chicken farming and large broiler chicken (chickens raised for meat) operations contribute to major water quality issues. Farmers will often discard their chicken litter in open fields as fertilizer, but the high-density of this fertilizer is then carried by rain into major waterways and streams.

2. Organic chickens have happier lives. While "organic" doesn't always translate to just treament of the chickens, there is some level of quality control: Organic chickens can't be raised in cramped conditions and must have free-range access. To ensure you're purchasing happy chickens, go straight to the farm or farmer and ask about the living conditions of their chickens. If they raise happy chickens, the farmers will be happy to tell you all about them.

3. Some believe organic chicken tastes better. Since organic chickens' feed is highly regulated, there are rarely shortcuts in what they're fed, so they often end up tasting better than chickens that lack feed regulations. You are what you eat, and so is your chicken.

4. Organic chicken may be healthier for us. While there is no significant nutritional difference between organic and factory-farmed chicken, non-organic chickens who are frequently given antibiotics can develop antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria—plus they're more likely to be infected with salmonella. While the heat of cooking can kill both of these concerns, it may be worth it to you to be safe rather than sorry.

5. It supports smaller farmers. A great deal of factory farming is concentrated in just fifteen states. By buying organic chickens from smaller farmers, you'll be supporting their livelihood for years to come.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Do you buy free-range chickens? Or are non-free range just as good? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Elissa
  • Mark X
    Mark X
  • GsR
  • Betsey
  • felisalpina
I eat everything.


Elissa November 7, 2015
I disagree with your reasoning about not buying organic milk and bananas. When you buy organic, you are supporting the practice of organic farming which goes far beyond whether or not pesticides have penetrated the skin of the fruit or vegetable. Protecting soil by rotating crops, allowing fields to go fallow for periods of time to rejuvenate; sustainable and humane practices in raising animals and processing meat; and the list goes on and on of course. I suspect you probably already know/realize this, but the way you've introduced your article screams ignorance.
Leslie S. November 7, 2015
I appreciate your concerns and agree with your reasoning, but unfortunately from an economic standpoint, it's impossible for most, myself included, to buy all organic products, so I need to prioritize the organic products that I purchase and have decided to prioritize animal welfare since I eat meat, though ideally we would all buy everything organic.
Elissa November 7, 2015
Right on, Leslie. I can appreciate that, thanks for the reply.
Mark X. November 7, 2015
GsR statements about kosher chicken are also debatable. How are kosher birds drug and cruelty free? Have you visited a kosher harvest facility? Ugh.

I agree that organic chickens are the best to buy. If they're "Certified Organic" and "Certified Humane" you know they meet strict HFAC standards. The website lists brands that follow responsible farm practices. Regarding harvest, a controlled atmosphere system (CAS) puts the birds to sleep with CO2 before slaughter. This is the most humane way of handling chickens. And any type of water immersion is not akin to "brine"--it's non-potable water that is shared with thousands of other birds. Industry insiders call this a "fecal bath" and it's a great way of sharing pathogens that can harm us. An alternative is 100% air-chilled chickens. Look for USDA processed verified "air-chilled." The flavor of these birds are more intense, they're cleaner, and infinitely more tender. It saves thousands of gallons of water daily--which is more sustainable. No water purge in packaging or while cooking either.

I also suggest looking at a producer's FMI "Safe Quality Food" (SQF) ranking. Level three or higher is equivalent to an "A" in a restaurant window. It's assurance that the facilities are third-party verified as being clean and safe.

I work in the food industry and there are chicken brands I will not touch. And "kosher" chickens are among them.
GsR November 5, 2015
Halle is NOT an option to kosher. Not only is a kosher animal killed as cruelty free as possiable they are also, for all intents and purposes, already brined.
Betsey November 5, 2015
After reading the book Eating Animals, I could not NOT eat non-humanely-raised poultry. The book is devastating. As I was unwilling to go vegetarian, I committed to only purchasing meat that I KNOW has been raised and slaughtered in a way that respects the animal.
felisalpina November 5, 2015
We used to have chicken. We also had a farm. Every animal has my highest respect, and this is why I would never buy cheap meat. I cannot imagine that you can raise any animal at such low cost with no side effects.
Sometimes, other people give me grief as they think I am silly for buying organic produce, but honestly: if I buy a chicken, it's a nice one, and it's much more than one meal, so the cost is also distributed across several days. And yes, it tastes better. (So does a lot of organic produce, also milk)
BTW: kosher is not the only option. Halal is another one.
GsR November 4, 2015
So far everyone of your "reasons" are at best debatable. But if you are interested in a drug free cruelty free chicken, try a kosher one. Not only drug and cruelty free, but also killed in the most humane manner possible