Author – Mariyam Shaukat
The internet is filled with debates and fact checks between team organically-bred chicken and team conventional poultry farming. Our supermarkets, on the other hand, are crammed with a range of poultry options, which puts consumers in a dilemma. Are the fancy free-range organic chicken just a marketing fad or the savior of human degradation caused by consuming the poultry farm chickens? Is it really healthier and worth spending the extra bucks?
What exactly is Free-range Organic Chicken?
In essence, their living conditions and the food sets these free-range chickens apart. What makes a chicken organic is basically its feed, which should be only organic certified feed without a trace of any animal by-product, chemicals, antibiotics, or pesticides. Even genetically engineered grains are prohibited in their feed.
Free-range chickens don’t spend their entire lives in cramped cages like commercially bred poultry. They have the freedom to strut around outdoors and have fun with their lives. Free-range might sound lucrative but it doesn’t necessarily mean organic feeding habits. They may eat mixed grains like conventional farm hens, only in a liberated environment. But it is more humane and any chicken with even a little more freedom is a happier chicken. Thus, a label of ‘organic free-range chicken’ certifies that the chicken was bred in a hygienic environment with better feed instead of wallowing in its own poop while ingesting growth-promoting steroids and antibiotics.
Acceptance for organic food is accompanied by a lot of skepticism regarding its nutritional benefits as compared to conventionally produced food. Various studies have shown that there is no significant difference in nutrient levels of organic poultry and conventional poultry. Overall, the nutritional composition of both variants is nearly the same even in its micronutrients, ie., vitamins and minerals.
The only difference lies in the fat content of the skin. The organic chicken has 5-13% less total fat but once the skin is removed, the fat content of the meat is pretty much the same. So organic free-range chicken is not worth the extra money from a purely nutritional aspect. But there remains the question of antibiotics and other drugs administered to battery farm chickens and how they affect our health.
Problem Of Drug Resistance
Conventionally bred poultry throughout the world are given antimicrobials doses to combat infections and artificially promote growth so as to produce more meat and eggs each year at a greater profit. However, according to Dr. Sandro Demaio, eating these chickens can disrupt the microbiome in our gut, which specializes in disease prevention and nutrition.
Colistin is one such antibiotic drug commonly used to enhance growth in chickens. Despite the World Health Organization calling for a ban on its usage as growth promoters, thousands of tonnes of veterinary colistin is imported to Vietnam, India, South Korea, and Russia. It’s continued use, increases the probability of bacteria resistance development against antibiotics, rendering them useless for treating infections in humans.
The situation critical in India, since the usage of this drug is unregulated in poultry farms. Venky’s is an international company that exports tonnes of this drug labeled as ‘Colis V’ every year. The packet reads “improves weight gain” with a picture of plump looking chickens. This drug can be purchased in Europe only with a veterinary prescription to treat a sick animal. But in India, it can be bought over the counter, without any prescription whatsoever.
Despite these worries regarding the spread of drug resistance, researchers at the Centre for Science & Environment found residues of six antibiotics in the meat found in Indian supermarkets in 2014. If bacteria acquire resistance to such critical drugs, it will be very hard to treat patients with lethal infections. Fortunately, the use of colistin in livestock was banned in India in 2019 based on the recommendations of the Drugs Technical Advisory Board and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan Committee. The Indian health ministry notified the prohibition of manufacture and distribution of the drug and its formulations for food-producing animals, poultry, aquafarming, and animal feed supplements.
Thankfully there is rising awareness about such rampant use of antibiotics in poultry farming and people are switching to organic free-range chickens even if it costs twice as much as conventional chicken. Here are some popular and reliable organic free-range chicken brands in India:
Daulat Farms Group started India’s first organic poultry breeding farms in 2009 by establishing its own research & development center, poultry hatchery, and poultry feed plant. The company began with 24 acres of farmland and a production capacity of 2 crore day-old chicks yearly. Today, Daulat Farms has become the largest country chicken and black meat (Kadaknath breed) chicken producer in India, producing chicken on 255 acres of farmland across 19 states in India. The company follows a simple guiding principle: “the way nature intended” All chickens are raised in a stress-free environment, fed an all-vegetarian diet with no animal fats or animal proteins, and organic breeds never receive any antibiotic.
At the Happy Hens Farm, the chickens enjoy basking in the sunshine, taking a sand bath, resting on trees, and socializing with others. Located in Trichy, Tamilnadu, the farm provides lots of space as per RSPCA standards, rotating green pasture to forage and comfortable barns with perches & nest boxes to lay eggs in privacy. Happy Hens is a venture by two passionate individuals, Manjunath M and Ashok Kannan, who have ensured their farm is built on humane, ethical & sustainable practices. By planting lots of trees and abstaining from the use of chemical or synthetic fertilizers, they have made a positive impact. Hen manure is used to a large extent to fertilize the farmlands.
Ayush Agro Farms are a group of farmers based in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, with a mission to provide 100% organic and healthy chicken meat and eggs. Following a traditional backyard method, their chickens are humanely raised on certified organic feed, which lay healthier and tastier eggs as is evident by its bright orange yolk. Their chicken is a little pricey as compared to any local organic farm chicken, but the quality of meat is assured. Online ordering is also available on their website.
Tona Organic Farm is a pioneer of end-to-end integrated organic farming in India established way back in 2003. It is operated and owned by a group of farmers in Tona village near Kolkata. It not only produces organic poultry but also duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, quail, etc. without using any harmful chemical feed. particularly, Tona specializes in rearing Peking ducks since it caters to its clientele in Kolkata. It uses a combination of aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical farming, organic animal husbandry, and 100% bio-waste recycling to create a sustainable ecosystem in the village with zero greenhouse gas emissions.