The question: This chicken says it’s natural; what does that mean?
STORE: New England-based natural products chain store
NFM: This chicken says it’s natural; what does that mean?
Store employee: Natural means the product has received minimum processing. That doesn’t mean that the animal was still not given something [artificial]. Organic means they are given nothing—no antibiotics or hormones, they are grass fed and there is nothing artificial added to that chicken that’s going to go into you. So natural is a funky word in our industry. Natural can mean something that still has chemicals in it. It’s not really a strict word any longer, but organic is. So, without a doubt, if you can do organic then you are better off.
Comment: The employee questioned was aware of the differences between natural and organic meats and that organic is more strictly regulated.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines the term natural for meat as containing no artificial ingredients or added color and being minimally processed. According to Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association, no poultry labeled as natural is given growth hormones, but it can still be given low levels of antibiotics to promote growth. As the employee correctly mentioned, the USDA does not have a verification system in place to certify product claims other than meat and poultry as being natural.
USDA organic meat comes from livestock that don’t eat feed grown with toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers or genetically modified organisms. The animals can’t be given growth hormones or antibiotics and must have access to pasture during the growing season.