The Burning Question: Do I Need to Buy Organic Chicken?

There are many age-old burning questions out there. Which came first the chicken or the egg? Can you tell if an egg is fresh by spinning it? Which is better for you to eat, conventional or organic chicken? Such burning questions, and we've got the answer to the last one here for the next time you are trying to determine if you should spend the extra money to buy organic chicken at the grocery store.

What Is Organic Label Chicken

When chicken carries an organic label it means the birds were raised under strict conditions. For example, the chick must be fed organic feed no later than 2 days after hatching.

During production, organic-chicken growers are legally prohibited from using:

  • Sewage sludge as fertilizer
  • Synthetic chemicals not approved by the National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—any plant, animal, or microorganism that has been altered through genetic engineering

Chickens labeled as "natural," on the other hand, don't necessarily meet those standards.

Prevents the Spread of Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria

Birds receive no hormones or antibiotics and must have access to outdoor spaces. When you crowd chickens together indoors, the way conventional growers do, they're more likely to produce infectious bacteria, which is why non-organic chickens are fed antibiotics as a norm.

But this creates drug-resistant strains of bacteria. These bacteria are normally killed by the heat of cooking, but they can be spread by people who work with growing chickens. "USDA Organic" chickens, on the other hand, are allowed access to the outdoors; they are given antibiotics only to prevent pain or death, after which they are no longer considered organic.

How Organic Is Healthier

One study found that organic chicken contained 38% more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Eating organic chicken may also lower your food-poisoning risk. In a 2010 study, fewer than 6% of organic birds were infected with salmonella, compared with almost 39% of conventional ones.

Registered dietitian, Connie Diekman, RD, tells us, there's no major nutritional difference between the organic and non-organic chicken. While some studies do show that organic chicken has more omega-3 fatty acids, chicken is low in fat to start with, so you're not getting much in either case. Beyond that, conventional and organic will give you the same nutritional product—both are good sources of protein.

However, organic may contain less salt and other additives. Many conventional and even "natural" chickens—but not organic ones—are injected with water, salt, and preservatives to add moisture and boost flavor. Check the ingredients label for salt or other additives, says Diekman. The upshot is higher sodium.

Are They Worth the Added Costs?

There are other foods worthier of your organic dollar. If you can't afford to buy everything organic, Diekman suggests that you buy natural fruits and vegetables like apples, peaches, spinach, strawberries, and sweet bell peppers. The treated types of these fruits and vegetables often have the highest pesticide residue.


Based on nutrition alone, organic chicken isn't worth the money—but it is if you're worried about food poisoning, GMOs, or how the chicken was raised. To make sure any kind of bird is safe to eat: Note whether it's plump—which is good—or dry which is bad. Also, check to make sure it's not close to the "sell by" date. Chicken is the most perishable meat, so when in doubt, sniff it—and put it back if anything smells off.

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  1. Whole Foods Market. What makes organic chicken organic?.

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