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Free-Range Chicken: What You Need To Know

Free-range chicken refers to grass-fed chicken left outdoors to eat natural food and become healthy for human consumption, compared to conventionally-raised chicken inside cages. 

Due to the consumer awareness and expectations of organic products, many labels are misleading people who seek them out. When farmers often claim that chicken was left to roam outdoors on green pastures, they do not grant them enough access, therefore deceiving people trying to make healthy food choices.

This deception stems from the lack of vigilance on the part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to a report by the Animal Welfare Institute. The agency does not request substantiation of the claims made about methods of animal rearing displayed on various labels. In fact, the evidence provided falls short of providing adequate proof for labels designating the product as “natural”. 

The primary reason being that the consumer awareness is low and consumers are willing to pay extra for pork, chicken and turkey without “added hormones.” The term need not be added to the products since the law does not allow the use of hormones on birds and swine. 

A survey of 1,000 consumers of meat, eggs and dairy assessed the consumers' attitude toward farm animals and their willingness to spend money on trustworthy products with certifications. The findings revealed that many U.S. consumers are willing to pay additionally to eat welfare-certified animal products, with most of them being millennials.  

“Most respondents (70 percent) reported paying attention to labels that indicate how the animals were raised and 78 percent believed there should be an objective third party to ensure farm animal welfare,” the researchers stated in the study.

As the worldwide demand for organic meat products is on the rise, more people are increasingly careful about consuming products derived from ethical animal welfare. Another study using 400 Beijing You chickens compared cage rearing and free-range rearing systems.

Since the factors influencing poultry rearing was not studied as rigorously before, an integrated study comparing factors on the diet choices and its impact on production quality and quantity was conducted. 

Four groups were formed by the researchers. One group of hundred chickens were placed under cage-rearing with conventional feeding, while another hundred chickens were also allocated cage rearing and offered a free dietary choice of mealworms.

In the next group, hundred chickens in cages were given both a choice of mealworms and fresh grass. Finally, the last group with a free dietary choice of mealworms and fresh grass had hundred chickens in free-range rearing systems. 

“Results showed that under cage rearing, free dietary choice contributed to better meat quality and gait score, higher values of blood platelets, and a richer gut microbial composition, but poorer egg production than CC chickens,” the researchers said.

Chickens The way vaccines affect chickens could be an indicator of how they could affect humans in the future. Shutterstock

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