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Chicken health claims are misleading

Date Published: 07/12/2006

Claims that organic chicken may be “not as healthy” for people as non-organic chicken have been questioned by a leading organic body.

Some national newspapers have carried reports on research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition which claims that organic chicken was found to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants than the non-organic alternative.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which inspects and licenses around three quarters of UK organic eggs and poultry, said the reporting of the findings was misleading.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “The findings of this research flies in the face of all the other research into the properties of organic food. I’m not a scientist, but I would be amazed if more research does not emerge to debunk this report. In fact, the report did not focus on organic chicken and the comparisons highlighted were a minor part of it.

“Some commentators have latched on to this and used it to attack organic farming, but I think they’ve all missed the crucial point. Organic is not first and foremost about making food healthier, although if that happens it is ideal. Crucially though, organic farming brings huge welfare benefits to animals as well as ensuring that the way they are farmed is environmentally sustainable.

“I would always rather feed my family a chicken that has had plenty of space to move, access to the outdoors and has not been routinely pumped full of antibiotics and fed who knows what. As to whether organic chicken tastes better, well that’s for individuals to decide. What we do know is that every blind taste test seems to get a different result, so we can’t put too much stock in those.”

The authors of the report, from Strathclyde University, have acknowledged in radio interviews that the differences in the chickens tested were not very large and were variable. They have also accepted that it was a small and preliminary study which did not take into account welfare issues or look at antibiotic residues.

Mr Jacobs stressed that organic producers did not make claims about the health benefits of their food unless those claims could be scientifically proven.