Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Squawking About Organic Chicken

During the presidential campaign of 1928, a circular published by the Republican Party claimed that if Herbert Hoover won there would be “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Hoover saw chicken as a luxury food that he wanted to make accessible to every American. President Hoover got his wish; chicken is now the most consumed meat in the United States.

Per capita consumption of chicken and turkey has increased steadily since 1965. Chicken is currently the most widely available organic meat.

Unfortunately for shoppers who want to purchase healthy and ethical organic chicken, choosing a brand is complicated.

Industrial management practices from conventional agriculture are well integrated into the organic poultry industry. By volume, the majority of organic chicken comes from industrial-scale operations.

Lax regulatory oversight by the USDA, loopholes, and loose interpretations of the standards are often employed by these producers.

The main characteristics of these loopholes are the lack of outdoor access, overcrowding, and the inability of birds to perform natural behaviors. These birds live short lives—usually only four to six weeks—during which, they are restricted from behaviors like foraging, bathing, and socializing.

Breeds in these industrial operations are selected for quick weight gain, rather than health and vitality. Because of the fast growth, the birds may only see the outdoors for a few days to a week, if that.

This outdoor access is usually token at best: plots of bare dirt that do not offer enough space for all the chickens in the barn to be outside. These chickens have no genuine space to forage for vegetation and insects, as would be natural for them.

All organic livestock, including meat birds, must have access to the outdoors, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean drinking water, shade, and direct sunlight—all suitable for the animal’s “stage of life, climate, and environment.”

Cornucopia is working on enforcement in these areas. In the meantime, even in an industrial setting, all feed must be certified organic, which means a lower pesticide load in the final product.

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