There are so many words that seem to be used with our food supply. We are bombarded with what is "best" for us, we're given statistics that are written in percentages and comparisons to blur the reality of the numbers. Catch phrases as smattered through advertising and the every day implications of those terms are hidden. We feel like we're making these great choices for ourselves, not realizing that in a lot of ways meat is meat, eggs are eggs and we've just been swept into the river of insanity and confusion, willing to drop money on this and that to chase after the current trend in food.
Let me break this down for you.
Natural - this word means nothing. There is no legal definition for this term, therefore it has no standardized meaning for producers.
Free-range - animals have access to outdoors for at least 5 minutes per day. There is nothing requiring the birds to actually go outside. And in actuality this would be a nightmare on large chicken farms, particularly for egg layers. This would require the farmers to wrangle up the chickens to return them to the barn or to have a modified Easter egg hunt daily to collect the eggs.
Cage-free - animals are not individual cages. They can be inside a large barn and cooped up (pardon the pun!) but are all together.
Antibiotic free - Some large farms give antibiotics to all their chickens to prevent outbreaks of illness. Some farms are trending towards no antibiotics, but if a chicken gets sick they will give it antibiotics and cannot sell them as antibiotic free. There is no requirement for meat producers to indicate the administration of vaccines, which is a way that farmers can manage animal health without giving antibiotics.
Hormone free - there are no hormones added to any chicken in the United States. It's not allowed!
Organic - Organic chickens are fed organic feed. Organic feeds are not pesticide free but are raised using "legal" pesticides that are approved by the USDA.
Vegetarian fed - this one in my favorite! Chickens are not vegetarians, so I'm not really sure how they pull this one off! Chickens love bugs, worms, snakes, and to be totally honest they are even cannibals when given the opportunity!
Non-GMO - this refers only to the feed that they eat. There are no genetically modified "Franken-chickens" running around with extra legs. Farmers are skilled at creating breeds of chickens that highlight positive, beneficial traits such as quicker growth, increased egg production or hardier animals.
Pasture-raised - these are chickens that are raised generally in pens out on grass. The chickens are generally moved around the pasture to give the birds access to fresh grass and bugs.
Were there are surprises to you? Start watching your menus and fast-food boxes to see what words they are attaching to their chicken and eggs. You might be surprised at how little they're actually telling you! Also watch for information about water added to products. "All natural" chicken and turkey can contain 15-30% added saltwater or chicken broth to improve the moistness of the meat.
We try to avoid terms and suggest that you come see our birds and how they are raised, how we care for them. Like we always say, know your farmer, know your food!