More and more people are starting to care where their food comes from. Labels are supposed to guide us into what is healthy and humanely raised, but do they tell the full story? What happens when a marketing team designs that label? And what about Organic? Is it true to it’s reputation?
First, let’s not discount the organic label too much. Often times it is a great way to guide you and typically a better choice than it’s non-organic counterpart. After all, chicken with an organic stamp is free from many toxins that conventional chicken is full of. However, it’s what the label doesn’t say is far more important than what it does say. This article isn’t to discredit organic, but rather make you aware of the gaps and show the importance of buying local and direct.
We always recommend buying straight from your local farm so you can see the operation and ask questions directly. Here at Nature’s Grove Farm, we strive to keep glass walls on our farm and not rely on clever labels or an organic logo. When it comes to our Pasture Raised Chicken, an organic stamp doesn’t come close to the standards we follow and that all chicken should be raised under. Here are some examples:
Gaps and loopholes in organic certification allow for painful body mutilations, which are labeled under the USDA as “alterations.” One of the most popular is debeaking. Chicks have their beaks forced into a press that comes down and cuts the tip of the beak off. This is not like cutting your finger nails. This cuts through veins and nerve endings and is so painful, the chicks often times are in too much pain to eat for a few days. Some even die from this practice. The reason for this is to stop cannibalism. Factory farming created a problem by cramming too many chickens in too small of a space. This of course led to chickens pecking each other to death. The fix to this manufacturered problem is to chop off their beak. This is allowed under organic standards and never shows up on the label.
Year round access to the outdoors is an organic standards requirement, however the USDA does not adequately define this requirement. This allows producers to provide access to tiny, outdoor dirt lots and still qualify as organic. Also, there are a plethora of exceptions to this rule that allows producers to keep chickens indoors indefinitely for a variety of reasons. These could be, bad weather, “the animal’s stage of life,” and “risk to soil.”
The organic standards do not provide stocking density guidelines, and so chickens are often stuffed by the thousands into sheds and still sold as “organic.” What this does is cause a toxic environment, full of ammonia which leads to respiratory problems in the birds. This also creates a more stressful life and effects their general health, wellbeing and the quality of the meat as well.
There is a common misconception that is driven by the “grain free” movement. Beef and lamb raised without grain is good. Those animals are meant to have a grass based diet. Poultry, however should eat grains, nuts, bugs and vegetation like grass. Notice they too should eat grass and weeds, but they should also have grain and bugs. Conventional farmed chicken, even organic chicken, is fed almost exclusively grains. The areas they are kept have no grass or vegetation. This creates an unbalanced diet which in turn affects the nutritional value of the meat. As long as the grains are organic, chickens can be fed this unbalanced, unnatural diet and still get the organic stamp.
Let’s Go Beyond Organic
All too often, organic chicken is simply factory farmed chicken that was fed organic feed. At Nature’s Grove Farm, we go beyond these standards. That’s why we don’t bother with getting the organic stamp, but rather open up our operation and be transparent about everything.
We never debeak our chicks. Our stocking density gives our birds enough space that this practice is not even necessary. After the chicks feather out, they are then put outside where they remain for the rest of their lives. They are truly raised outdoors and moved in mobile shelters every day to fresh pasture with fresh grass and bugs for them to forage on. No mutilation, actually raised outdoors, no toxic chicken houses, and a species appropriate diet. That’s just the start of how chickens at Nature’s Grove Farm goes beyond organic.