Organic, Cage-Free, Antibiotic-Free: Which is best?

If you’re looking to purchase “Organic” chicken or eggs, look for the USDA Organic label.

Every time I go to purchase eggs or meat, I see a label proclaiming one of the above. I generally tilt my head, pause to think, then realize I have no idea what it means and grab the cheapest package. Meat is meat, eggs are eggs, right? Well, to those as ignorant as me, I have news: there is a difference!

“Organic” has become quite the buzzword in recent years. “Natural!” “From the earth!” is always what comes to my mind. Actually, if we’re being honest, I picture a guy wearing tie-dye trying to lure me into his natural food shop because a new shipment of ‘tee tree’ just came in. But when it comes to food products, it means something.

If you’re looking to purchase “Organic chicken or eggs, look for the USDA Organic Label. This signifies that the chicken was fed a vegetarian diet and therefore did not ingest any GMOs. No, the GMOs are not an award show, it stands for: Genetically Modified Organisms. Reassuringly enough, it also means that within 48 hours of being born they are not “fed any hormones, antibiotics, drugs, have access to outdoor space, clean drinking water, and be raised “per animal health and welfare standards.” (FoodHacks) So if you’re looking for the cleanest option, USDA Organic is the way to go.

Let’s turn our attention to the ‘Cage-Free’ concept. The term is only relevant to egg-laying hens but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re out casually strolling – wings in pocket – chewing on straw. There has been much dispute surrounding this term. All this means is that the hens have access to the outdoors and don’t live in a standard battery-cage. There is no third-party establishment that certifies producers as cage-free. Quite frankly, it seems to be a matter of semantics. So what are the benefits? Mostly just the fact that the hens aren’t in as close of quarters. Common sense can tell us that this slightly eliminates the potential spread of infectious bacteria and contact with waste; as both may prove to be harmful. Overall, the benefit here seems to be minimal, but if the cage-free premise makes you feel any better, go for it.

If you’ve kept up on the news lately, you’ve probably heard the term “Antibiotic-Free’” swirling about. The hype surrounds the debate whether or not animals raised for consumption purposes should be administered antibiotics that humans would ingest if ill. A recent Huffington Post article stated that “80% of the antibiotics in use are fed to animals raised for food to keep them growing faster and to prevent them from getting sick in crowded and unsanitary conditions.” So now let us refocus after imagining a Holstein taking a shot of Dimetapp before bed. The concern is that we will build an immunity to these antibiotics by ingesting them frequently via these meats. So when we do become ill, our bodies will be resistant to the medicine. Now I know you’re not naïve and can see the issue here- so next time go see the guy wearing tie-dye at the natural food shop for a remedy — not your local butcher.