On the surface, the question of whether to buy organic or conventionally-produced meat seems pretty simple. To be certified organic, animals must be fed 100-percent organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and they can’t be fed animal byproducts or be treated with antibiotics.
Because of those regulations, the choice between organic and non-organic meat seems like a no-brainer, but free-range chicken farmer Makenna Goodman argues that the answer is more complex than that in a Huffington Post article.
Goodman points out that although the USDA requires that organic chickens have outdoor access, many organic farms are hardly the bucolic fantasies that we might imagine. When it comes to humane treatment of animals, the regulations can actually be quite lax, and many certified-organic chickens actually spend most of their lives in confinement houses.
Here’s Goodman’s explanation for why her chickens aren’t organic:
I have laying hens, and believe me when I tell you they have a good life. They’re free range to the point of too free, and spend warm days by the pond, eating bugs. They lay eggs with neon orange yolks, a sign they’re low in cholesterol and high in good protein. I feed them food scraps, and along with their “salad greens” of grass and plants, this cuts down on their grain consumption substantially. I’m considering getting scraps from the local elementary school, too. Use waste, be sustainable, cut down on fossil fuels, that kind of thing. I am 100% against hormones, large-scale corporate food production, caged livestock, and mistreatment of animals of any kind. But I don’t use organic grain, because it’s twice as expensive, and since the hens are so free-range they get most of their diet through food scraps and plants, and eat very little grain anyway (which, although not certified organic, is all-natural, hormone and antibiotic free.)
The question of what food to buy is never an easy one, but in most cases it comes down to knowing where your food is coming from, and in the case of animals, how they’re being treated.