Wheel of Chicken

The Wheel of Chicken – Understanding Your Choices

We strive to provide Canadian consumers with many choices for the type of chicken they buy, but at the grocery store, these choices can sometimes be overwhelming. Ever wondered the difference between free-range and free-run? In our infographic, The Wheel of Chicken, we unpack that all.

Free-range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free-range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.

Free-run is different than free-range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free-run.

Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of 85% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain-fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

With respect to food, Islamic laws are very specific and Muslims seek to eat foods defined as “Halal,” which is defined by Muslims as “that which is allowed.” Essentially, “Halal” means permitted by God, or “Allah,” the Law-Giver. Muslims are taught that the animals must be well-rested and handled in a way that minimizes suffering. Many stores offer Halal choices in stores – although some regions may have limited availability. Check with your local store for more information. More information on Halal meat and Halal standards can be sought by contacting the Islamic Society of North America at www.isnacanada.com.

Hormone-Free and/or Steroid-Free
Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.

Kosher products refer to the content and production requirements, not necessarily to any specific cuisine. In Hebrew, kosher means “fit” or “proper,” indicating that the food products meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law. The Jewish dietary laws are collectively known as the laws of kashruth and deal with what foods may be eaten together and how those foods are to be prepared.

During the processing stage, salt and water are used to prepare the chicken for market. The guidelines for kosher certification are strict and the product must still pass through government inspection in order to be sold in stores or shipped to restaurants. Kosher products are sold across the country and are widely available. For more information, you can visit the Kashruth Council of Canada at www.cor.ca.

Organic Chicken
Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with a certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Raised Without Antibiotics
Raised without antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit our Animal Health: Antibiotics section.

Vegetarian Grain-Fed
Vegetarian grain-fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.