Take a look in any supermarket and you’ll find countless poultry products with a seal reading: “USDA verified 100% vegetarian-fed chicken.” While this may appear normal and even healthy to the average shopper, it’s anything but.
Let’s get this straight: chickens have never been vegetarians and they never will be. And yet, large scale industrial egg-farmers and poultry producers proudly champion this ‘vegetarian-fed’ claim to consumers every chance they get. In many ways, this is symbolic of an overarching issue in America: accessibility to healthy foods and accurate information about them rarely exists. Although many vegetarian-fed poultry products are organic, cage-free, and non-GMO, that doesn't mean consuming them is the healthy choice. There’s absolutely nothing natural about a vegetarian chicken.
The reality is chickens are omnivores. They eat plants, insects, and animals. Talk to any farmer or chicken owner and they’ll tell you about these animals’ desire to eat everything under the sun. They’ve been known to dine on everything from worms, bugs, and frogs to mice and snakes—they’re natural foragers, after all! If given the chance, chickens will even consume their own dead. It’s not pretty, but it’s the truth. These things are straight up eating machines. It’s a good thing, too: chickens’ expansive palates drive them to forage for a variety of food and protein sources, providing essential nutrients for a healthy, balanced diet.
So why do so many poultry products make this claim? Because it allows them to give consumers the impression they’re eating something healthy when they’re actually not. Rather than allowing chickens to freely forage, industrial operations typically feed their animals an unnatural mixture of corn and soybeans. Regardless of the quality of these ingredients, they only comprise half of these chickens’ natural diets!
The impacts of this are ghastly. Studies show that vegetarian-fed chickens typically fall short of methionine, an essential protein-based amino acid for monogastric animals like chickens, horses, and humans. To compensate for this deficiency, many farmers are forced to feed their chickens synthetic methionine, which is by definition unnatural and not organic. The USDA has tried to account for this by limiting the amount of synthetic materials certified-organic chickens are allowed to consume, but that’s only angered farmers, who claim their animals aren’t eating enough. At what point will the commercial food industry step back and realize just how crazy this is?
These practices inevitably impact our company, but we’re working to change that. Despite harmful and unnatural industry standards, we source approximately 25-30% of our poultry products from free-range farms. More importantly, we are actively leading the charge for a robust supply chain that moves the needle towards more natural, humane treatments of all animals while positively impacting the planet. We’re confident that, alongside our partners and informed consumers, we can turn the tide and improve the quality of life for every person (and animal) we touch.
Which brings us back to square one: chickens aren’t vegetarians. We need to stop treating them as such. The sooner people get that through their heads, the sooner we’ll all have access to happy, healthy, additive-free birds.