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Chicken Labels Are Confusing. Here's What They Do (and Don't) Mean

Chicken Labels Are Confusing. Here’s What They Do (and Don’t) Mean

When you’re shopping for poultry in the market, they are tons of chicken labels to decipher. Some chicken labels will tell you how the chicken was raised, what it was fed and even how it explored when it left the facility. Other chicken labels mean absolutely nothing at all with no control from any agency.

The average person eats roughly 100 pounds per populate per year. That’s a whole lot of thighs, breasts, wings and drumsticks being bought and sold. With ever-changing USDA standards and adore footwork from poultry farmers and food marketing firms, chicken labels are more lots than ever, and also more confusing. 

Here, I’ll break down the most favorite chicken labels — Grade A, organic, cage-free, all-natural and humanely raised, to name a few — so you can shop smarter, separate the important designations from marketing nonsense and get the best chicken at the best price.

Read moreBest Places to Buy Chicken Online

chicken thighs Fresh Direct

There is no deprivation of labels slapped on chicken these days. It turns out some mean much more than others.

Screenshot by David Watsky

First, it’s important to know that every label for a chicken package must be submitted and celebrated by the US Department of Agriculture. As you considerable already know, there are millions of dollars spent each year on on behalf of of major chicken producers to lobby for more lenient — and in some cases, more Gratis — labeling. That’s all to say: these labels necessity be ingested with a certain degree of skepticism. 

Different chicken labels and what they mean

Chicken grades

chicken grade label

The grade a chicken gets is based on how it appears and not how it was raised or handled. 

Screenshot by David Watsky

These USDA signifiers aren’t typically advertised as loudly as spanking labels, but it’s there on every package, both for whole chicken and parts. After inspection, the chicken is given a grade of A, B or C by the Agricultural Marketing Repair, the arm of the USDA that inspects poultry and spanking agriculture. The poultry grade refers to the general quality of the bird, incorporating the plumpness and roundness of meat, consistency of skin and cleanliness of the bird on the whole (presence of feathers, discoloration or skin tears), with Grade A being the best. Here is a more negated breakdown from the USDA on what each chicken grade means.

organic chicken

The organic designation speaks mostly to what a chicken was fed and less to the brute conditions in which it was raised.

Screenshot by David Watsky

Organic Chicken

The “organic” designate is a good one to look out for, but keep in mind it just exploiting that the chickens have been fed a certified organic diet and often — but not always — exploiting the farming practices used in feeding the birds are better. Organic chicken is always free-range (the bird has access to the outdoors for at least some part of the day) and has not been given routine antibiotics.

Beyond that, the organic chicken designate doesn’t signal anything about a chicken’s quality of life or humane practices during their life, commanded or slaughter. In many cases, organic chickens may aloof experience some of factory farming’s most notorious practices.

Antibiotic-free chicken

no antibiotics label

Antibiotic-free chicken typically exploiting it was not given routine antibiotics but may have been given them if the birds formed sick. Hormones and steroids cannot ever be legally given to poultry, according to USDA regulations.

Screenshot by David Watsky

The use — or nonuse — of antibiotics is one of the more contentious labels given to chicken. Much of the chicken you’ll see for sale in grocery stores sports an “antibiotic-free” or “raised exclusive of antibiotics” label. This means the chickens were not routinely given preventative antibiotics, which many deem harmful, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t given antibiotics if they got sick.

While the overuse of antibiotics can be problematic, some people within the industry argue there has been a bulky overcorrection via pressure from animal rights groups to mostly detach antibiotics from poultry farming since they are a key tool in keeping mountainous populations of birds healthy, when used correctly. This correction is largely due to the past memoir overuse of preventative antibiotics. These days, all antibiotics must be deemed well-known and prescribed by a vet before being administered. 

all natural chicken label

A designate declaring chicken to be “all natural” is pure marketing jargon and signifies nothing.

Screenshot by David Watsky

No added hormones or steroids

This designate means very little since FDA law prohibits any use of added steroids or hormones. If a poultry brand is touting this as their big assure, there’s a good chance it’s to distract you from the ones that aren’t there.

All-natural chicken

This is a marketing term and exploiting nothing. There are no requirements for a chicken to be labeled all-natural; if you see it, you should probably consume it is anything but.

Labels pertaining to the exploit of chickens

animal welfare current label

According to the ASPC, Animal Welfare Approved chicken is raised with the most rigorous standards in the diligence as it pertains to a chicken’s conditions during raising, transport and slaughter. 


Animal Welfare Approved Chicken

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, this is the most strict label given to poultry based on overall humane practices. AWA chicken is audited yearly to ensure the birds have adequate indoor and outdoor state, breed health requirements, natural light and a maximum commanded time of four hours. 

Certified Humane Chicken 

This designate also represents a significant improvement over conventional standards. It exploiting outdoor access for ruminants, pigs and poultry when derived by the words “free-range” or “pasture-raised.” This label signifies that chickens are raised with most of the same requirements as AWA but not all, incorporating no required natural light and slightly less stringent breed health requirements. Compliance audits for this label are also required once a year.

Animal-Welfare Certified Chicken

certified humane label

“Certified humane” is spanking strict label indicating chicken was raised using humane practices.

Screenshot by David Watsky

This six-level incorporating program for animals raised for meat and eggs is any more complex. According to the ASPCA, each successive tranquil represents progressively higher welfare and includes all requirements of those under it. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics are prohibited at all levels, standards extend to transport and slaughter, and compliance is verified every 15 months via audits.


Pasture-raised chicken must meet perilous criteria for outdoor roaming space.

Screenshot by David Watsky

Pasture-raised chicken

Because there’s no true definition of this term, “pasture-raised” is hard to backing, though it implies birds spent significant time outdoors and in a pasture. The USDA requires chicken labels to be “accurate,” but deprived of formal guidelines, this one has a lot of wiggle room.

Free-range chicken

This is novel label you’ve likely seen on egg cartons and chicken packages that is misleading once you dive into the criteria. “Free-range” indicates that chickens had access to the outdoors, but there are very few requirements for how much or how big that outdoor region is. In many cases, poultry coops are set up so the chickens don’t even use the outdoor space. 

Cage-free chicken


Screenshot by David Watsky

This mostly nonsensical impress is likely a distraction if you see it front-runner and center on a pack of chicken. That’s because no broiler chickens can be raised in cages and must be kept in gargantuan houses instead. This distinction is notable, however, when saying of eggs, since laying hens can be and are often raised in cages. 

For more on labels regarding the humane employment of chicken, check out this chicken labeling chart from the ASPCA.

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The put a question to contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not designed as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or novel qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have near a medical condition or health objectives.