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Decoding Chicken Labels

March 07, 2017

100% Vegetarian Fed

The Animal Welfare Institute notes that chickens who are not on an all-vegetable diet will typically be given feed which contains: "unused parts of other animals, for example, meat and bone meal, feather meal, and/or manure, eggs, and hatchery waste."

Antibiotic Fee / Raised Without Antibiotics

Antibiotic free is not a label that's approved by the USDA. Typically, this label means that chickens have not received antibiotics seven to fourteen days before slaughter. 

Cage Free 

Chickens marked cage-free have the ability to roam freely. Cage free chickens differ from free-range as they are still in an enclosed area, typically a grow house, barn, or shed. 

Free Range / Free Roaming

Unfortunately, free range does not guarantee that a chicken is also grown organically or is foraging for food freely. A number of chickens are raised in grow houses with access to the outdoors and they still qualify for this label. We suggest looking for chicken that is both free-range and organic.

Humanely Raised

The marking humanely raised isn't regulated, but there are organizations that verify the fair and ethical treatment of animals. If you see a label that says "certified humane" and "animal welfare approved" then you can rest assured that you are purchasing a product that has followed certain standards for raising, handling, and slaughtering animals. These are also higher standards than the typical USDA expectations.

Made in the USA

Chickens born, raised, and processed in the U.S. are labeled Made in the USA per the Country of Origin Labeling law.


Chickens that are labeled natural have gone through limited processing and not administered anything artificial (chemical preservatives, coloring agents). The label will explain the exact nature of the statement. 


As with the "certified humane" label, there are third-parties that verify non-GMO products. The largest is the Non-GMO Project. Their label is the most strict, but their chicken feed can still contain up to .9% genetically modified crops.

No Hormones Added

Chickens labeled no hormones added may still contain drugs and antibiotics. In fact, the USDA doesn't allow the use of hormones in chickens, so all chickens are hormone-free making this label a marketing tactic.


Certified organic chickens are raised and processed following USDA guidelines and checked by a certifying agent. Qualifications:

  • Chickens must be fed certified-organic feed that's grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals and contains no animal by-products, antibiotics, or GMOs
  • Chickens cannot receive drugs: no antibiotics, no hormones, no vaccinations
  • Chickens must have access to the outdoors (Free Range)



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