What does ‘Free Range’ really mean?
Thanks to the work of chefs such as Jamie Oliver, we are now much more aware of the atrocities involved in chicken farming. With the brutal and cruel reality brought to light, a lot of you started to think about the chicken that you were so frequently eating and where it came from. It was a messy break up for some - which I am sure has resulted in an unhealthy reunion over time - but for those of you who are still conscious of where their meat and chicken comes from, it is important to be savvy about some terminology that can be quite liberally thrown around to lull you into thinking that you are doing your bit.FREE RANGE For hens reared for meat, there must be no more than 13 chickens per square meter. That means that there could be just 7.6 cm of space for each chicken! To give you an idea, the hens in this picture are classified as 'free range'! Free Range chickens must have continuous access to open air for at least HALF their lifetime (so 28 of their 56 day life span). This open-air access however is most likely to be very difficult to access and a very small area that the chickens rarely actually get to. For egg-laying hens there should be no more than 9 hens per square meter – that’s just 11.1cm per hen. Every hen should have 15cm of perch and 10cm of feeder. There must be one nest for every 7 birds or 1 square meter for every 120 birds! Does not sound too good does it? Understandably I am sure millions of people have thought that they were making the right choice to choose free range, but in reality, around 90% of chickens reared for meat are kept in conditions that are at the minimum welfare standard. PASTURED 'Pastured' chicken or eggs are much more in line with what you would expect to get with a free-range chicken. Birds are usually kept in coops at night but allowed to forage during the day. As a result their diet is much more varied and consequently taste is much better. The downside of this though is that pastured is not a legal term yet so cannot be fully trusted on a label. ORGANIC If you are going to buy chicken or chicken eggs, the label that you can trust the most is ‘Organic’. However please do continue to research the company from whom you are buying the chicken – as with anything there are so many loopholes. Organic usually signifies the most humane treatment – but do you know why? Well, it’s because as an organic product, chickens are not allowed to be fed antibiotics - as a result, farmers cannot afford to keep them in the standard cramped, inhumane conditions because disease will be much to rife. Organic chickens also have to be fed organic matter and must be ‘free-range’. Organic produce is closely monitored and regulated so by choosing organic you are most likely to be buying something that has lead a happier life. SOLUTIONS
- Research the farm.
- Rear your own. Easier for eggs than meat – chickens will also love any leftover food so no waste.
- Buy from your local butcher – he should know where the chicken has come from.
- If in doubt – choose organic.