Why Free Range Chickens May Taste Better

October 27, 2003

Animal rights activists are concerned about the living conditions of animals that are destined to end up on the dinner plate, and have convinced some European countries to require such things as uncrowded living conditions.

The United States has voluntary standards -- but only as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. The organic standards for livestock include requirements that animals not receive steroids or antibiotics. The NOP is a marketing program and makes no claims that organic farming is "better" in any respect than conventional farming.

However, the NOP does establish animal welfare standards: "Animals in an organic livestock operation must be maintained under conditions which provide for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species."

There is evidence that free range chickens and wallowing pigs may yield better quality meat, by avoiding problems faced by conventional breeders. According to the New York Times:

  • Half a century of selective breeding has inadvertently led to nervous pigs that are vulnerable to porcine stress syndrome, which damages muscle tissue, causing it to lose water, and can result in "sweating pale cuts of meat that ooze liquid in the packaging and become leathery when cooked," says the New York Times.
  • About 10 percent to 15 percent of pork is affected.
  • Similar stress reactions can also occur in chicken and turkey, resulting in crumbly processed meat.

Temple Grandin, an expert in livestock handling at Colorado State University, says a predisposition to stress is heightened when animals are raised in unstimulating environments. Physical restraint, excessive handling, electric prods and extremes of heat and cold make matters worse.

Livestock producers and meatpackers are turning to experts, including Grandin, to improve conditions for animals, and reduce the economic losses caused by the problem.

Source: Armelle Casau, "When Pigs Stress Out," Science Times, New York Times, October 7, 2003.

 

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