04.The ethics of buying chicken
Given little difference in flavour, you might want to base your decision about what chook to buy on ethics instead. If so, you'll want to know how the different types of chicken are raised.
The industry boasts the birds aren’t caged like laying hens, but they still don’t get much room to move. They’re confined in sheds with less space per bird than the area of one page of CHOICE magazine.
Chicken meat produced by this system is certainly cheap, and the birds are protected from predators and heat and cold. But animal welfare organisations say the system is cruel, for a number of reasons.
- The birds are stressed by the unnatural environment where they can’t scratch, dust-bathe and stretch their wings.
- They can suffer chronic pain and lameness because of their rapid growth.
- They’re housed on litter, but the sheds aren’t cleaned until the fully grown chooks are taken for 'processing'. The high ammonia levels from this accumulation of chook poo can cause eye, skin and respiratory problems in the animals.
These differ from regular factory chickens only in that they’re fed a high-corn diet instead of the usual mix of grains and legumes. Some people prefer the flavour of corn-fed chooks. The flesh and fat are slightly yellow, which some find disconcerting at first.
This system involves efficiency compromises over factory farming, to provide a better environment for the birds.
- Free-range chooks may get more space in the shed.
- They're allowed to forage outside in a more natural environment (though they don’t necessarily take advantage of it, or get much food from the sometimes overused ground).
Organic chickens are also free-range, but there are additional requirements:
- The birds have even more space than free-range chooks when they’re confined in sheds.
- Most of the diet must be from feed produced by organic methods (so this should exclude genetically modified (GM) corn and GM soya bean meal).
The French have a word for it
In France you’re almost guaranteed a tasty roast chicken if you buy a Label Rouge bird at your local supermarché (though at twice the price of an ordinary broiler).
The Label Rouge system imposes strict standards. The birds must be free-range and there are special dietary requirements.
But the key factor in producing the flavour is the use of traditional breeds of chook that grow much more slowly than birds that have been bred for factory farming. Label Rouge chickens must grow for at least 81 days before slaughter, whereas in Australia even organic chickens might only live for 63 days.