by Stephanie Stewart

When you walk down the aisle inside of your favorite grocery store, it’s easy to spot buzzwords that may grab your eye. With consumers rising interest in what is in their food, words that give more details stop and make you think. Organic, free range, natural, antibiotic free. What does it all mean and do these labels really fit the goals in your head? Let’s take a deeper dive to make sure you’re spending pennies on poultry wisely. 

Eggcellent! Free Range vs Organic

Let’s get this cracking with eggs! Starting with free range and organic. Chickens labeled as “free range” must be organic, but not all organic chickens have to be “free range.” 

Free Range

The term “free range” currently has no federal definition. It can mean a variety of things. Some birds may get to be in pastures all day. Others live in a more conventional poultry house, but just have access to a pen that is outside. However, since birds are more likely to stay close to food and water, it is unlikely that they will spend much or any time in the sunshine. 


The organic label in America must be achieved by the producer by meeting several USDA standards. But, just because a meat is labeled as organic by those standards, does not necessarily mean it has any additional safety values, or nutritional values. 

At the end of the day if you are wanting the freshest, truly free-range eggs available that are probably at the best price, hit up your local farmers market, or look for signs along roadways. These eggs will likely be cheap and have the lovely orange nutritious yolks we all love!


Getting to the Meat of the Matter: “No Hormones Added” vs “Antibiotic Free”

When it comes to chicken meats, the two big labels used are “no hormones added” or “antibiotic free.” 

“No Hormones Added”

One common misconception about poultry is that all current birds are provided hormones to get to the size they are as quickly as they do. In reality, the FDA strictly enforces that no hormones can be used in poultry production. Modern chickens are as big as they are due to generations of careful and selective breeding, and better formulated feed rations than ever. So don’t let that one fool you! 

“Antibiotic Free”

Antibiotic free has also become common for most chickens we have in stores or restaurants today. This means the birds are not given antibiotics at a growth promoting level that they have in past years. However, if a disease does impact the birds, they will be treated to save them, and be unable to be sold under this label. Most antibiotics when used, also have no connection to use in human medicine. Nevertheless, birds who are still given antibiotics throughout the grow-out time of their flock will be given withdrawal feed for a designated time before they are processed. This is to make sure that all antibiotics are free of their system and clear for the consumer. 

The Power is in YOUR HANDS! -er- WALLET!

When it comes down to it, I encourage you to research any labels you are unsure of the definition for, to make sure they mean what you think they are supposed to. If those labels don’t meet the standards in your head maybe you should re-evaluate your purchases. Remember consumer dollars drive the industry. If nothing else, always look for local means of food markets in your area, where you can approach the farmer and they can tell you about all their practices and why their products are worth it!



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2 thoughts on “No-Nonsense Guide to Food Labels (Chickens)

    • Liz_Nyman_Farmfront_Board says:

      Thank you, Lisa! We want to expand to other foods out there so if you have any requests, we’re here for it!

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