My wife came to me with the February 2014 issue of Oprah’s magazine “O”. There is a quote from Oprah’s former chef, Art Smith, the owner of Chicago’s Table Fifty-two. He goes on and on about how wonderful the rotisserie chickens are from Walmart, that he “always keeps a bird or two in the refrigerator, and they’re even hormone-free.”
Most people’s reaction is probably similar to my wife’s, “Wow, Walmart has hormone-free chicken. I may just have to start shopping for my chicken there.” Actually, marketers have a field day with this kind of claim, because very few people realize that no artificial or added hormones are used in the production of any poultry in the United States. In fact, if a company makes the “hormone-free” claim on the packaging, they must also explain that no U.S. chickens are given hormones (although I suspect it’s probably in very small print).
In a nutshell, when it comes to chicken, the only real label with any bite (pardon the pun) is “organic.” These chickens are fed 100% organic feed, have roamed in pastures and given no antibiotics. All organic chickens are free-range, but not all free-range chickens are organic. In fact, less than 1% of chickens in the US are raised free-range even. The next best choice is probably “kosher” or “halal” (according to Jewish or Muslim law) because the farmers are held to higher standards and the birds are treated more humanely.
The term “natural” only refers to what manufacturers have added once the bird is slaughtered, ignoring the conditions in which the bird was raised.
Other than “organic” and “kosher/halal”, the label claims are not really enforced so you need to do some research into the manufacturer to find out what their poultry production entails.
I realize money may be an issue when choosing which type chicken you buy, but remember the rule: the happier the animal was when it was alive, the healthier, tastier and more nutritious it is on your table.