Food scientists, having assessed the quality of birds raised in a variety of conditions, have found that those intensively farmed have the best flavour, while those raised under organic guidelines are the least tasty.
Their findings contradict claims by campaigners who insist that organic and free-range chickens produce tastier, healthier meat because they have more freedom to move around and are given better food.
A panel of 10 taste experts sampled meat from 120 cage-reared, maize-fed, organic or free-range birds. They found the cage-reared chicken meat the least acidic, though it had a less attractive colour than other types. Bristol University’s school of veterinary science professor, Dr Paul Warriss, who led the study said: “In general, higher ratings were given for texture, juiciness, flavour and overall preference for meat from the birds reared in the standard system.”
Sales of organic and free-range chickens have soared recently following television programmes and campaigns by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Retail analysts said earlier this year that sales of free-range chickens were increasing twice as fast as sales of standard chickens, though costing up to three times more.
The latest study, published in the British Poultry Science journal, will be a blow to the organic and free-range farming industries which claim that the better welfare their animals and birds enjoy leads to better-quality meat. Critics have also insisted there is little evidence to support claims that organic food is better for human health.
While organic producers point to research that shows their birds contain higher levels of vitamins and other nutrients, others claim that just as many studies have found no added benefit. The organic meat used in the new research was produced according to guidelines set out by the Soil Association, which has developed a certification mark for organic food. A spokesman for the group said: “Many people believe organic food tastes better but there are other reasons, including animal welfare, why people choose organic chicken.
“Unlike intensively-reared birds, organic chickens can’t be given routine doses of antibiotics which weaken their natural immune system. They are also linked to creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs with serious human health implications.”
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Journal of British Poultry Science