Monday, November 26, 2007

What is Natural poultry anyway?

rubber chickens

Last week there was a flurry of comments about a post in which my Thanksgiving expert Rick Rodgers mentioned "natural" in regard to poultry. Coincidentally while shopping for chicken I had someone ask me if natural was the same as organic. I gave her the short answer, which was "no". But there's a lot more to it than that. Even reading the labels can be confusing.

Natural, according to the dictionary, means functioning or occurring in a normal way or existing in or produced by nature; not artificial or imitation. But when it comes to chicken and for that matter turkey, natural isn't what you might think. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the label "natural" means the food contains no hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients and is "minimally" processed. But that doesn't prohibit processors from adding sodium, carrageenan and broth or water to the bird. Perhaps those aren't artificial ingredients, but neither are they naturally occurring in poultry at least not in the quantities that end up in the bird.

In fact, up to 15 percent of the weight of the chicken can be an injected solution of those aforementioned ingredients. The salt and broth may make the bird taste better, but it's not great for those on a low-sodium diet. According to the Truthful Labeling Coalition, the sodium added is up to 822% greater than the amount that exists in natural chicken and one single serving can contain over 25% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium for a healthy adult. Plus you pay extra for a salt and broth injected bird.

I don't know about you, but I don't want "enhanced" chicken. I want to buy the minimally processed bird that Rick Rodgers recommended and I'll enhance it myself. It just turns out it might not be the one labeled "natural". I also think everyone should know just what has been added to the bird before they buy it. Last month quite a few members of congress agreed and sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture, asking for better labeling and that the label "natural" not be used on these injected birds. You can add your voice to the cause, here.