Organic vs Free Range: What Does the Label on Your Chicken Really Mean?

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Last Updated on:

Buying chicken these days is not like it used to be. With labels like “100 percent natural,” “organic,” “grain-fed,” and “free range,” many consumers don’t really know what they’re buying.

Organic and Free Range Chicken: Better for My Health?

“100% Natural” Chicken

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – “100 percent natural” means the poultry doesn’t contain artificial ingredients like preservatives. But experts warn – there are no guarantees.

“100 percent natural – remember – no inspections are done. So we don’t know if those claims are really true,” says Shannon Wallace, R.D., registered dietitian with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Organic Chicken

Chicken labeled as “organic” must meet much stricter standards. Inspections are conducted and organic chicken cannot contain artificial ingredients, hormones or antibiotics. But are those really harmful to consumers?

“The USDA does not make any claims that organically produced food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food,” adds Wallace.

Grain fed Chicken

This is supposed to mean the chicken was not fed animal by-products, but just like “100 percent natural” and “free range,” there is no outside monitoring for this claim.

Free Range Chicken

And probably the most confusing label of them all – “free range.” Chicken labeled as “free range is supposed to be leaner, but again, experts warn the claim can be deceiving.

“Free range does not always mean that the animal has been in an open area its whole life. It may only mean they were in a restricted area and let out into that open area one time during their life,” says Wallace

The Bottom Line

So what should you shop for in chicken?

“If you would like to have a healthy diet – trimming the fat or buying leaner cuts of meat is always important. And the research is still out regarding these other issues of hormones and antibiotics,” says Wallace.


chicken, free-range, organic

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