Choose ORGANIC Poultry?
by Paulette Millis
Whow! What would we do without our favourite chicken dinner,
or our roast turkey for Christmas? Upon reading the research
on the quality, or more aptly, the lack of quality in our
poultry supply, I can see where one might choose to become
vegetarian! People born before World War II often say, “Chicken
doesn’t taste like chicken anymore.” But listen,
read on for how to source quality birds!
First, why NOT eat non-organic poultry?
1. Commercially raised chickens are often fed antibiotics
and much of the feed routinely has antibiotics. The Union
of Concerned Scientists estimates 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics
– about 70% of total US antibiotic production –
are fed to livestock animals such as chickens, pigs, and cows
for non-therapeutic purposes. (Associated Press Feb. 16, 2001.)
The concern with this constant, involuntary medication in
our food supply is the new strains of bacteria and disease
resistance in humans. In other words, antibiotics have become
ineffective in controlling many bugs. The National Academy
of Science (American) says, “Factory Farming would not
be possible without the routine use of antibiotics and other
drugs. Only with drugs can animals survive the overcrowding,
stress, and severe deprivation. The practice of feeding livestock
a variety of antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels has become
commonplace as producers have adopted confinement practices.
The widespread use of antibiotics has reinforced a trend not
to manage for disease prevention but rather to accept the
costs of antibiotic feeding as a routine production expense.”
(Alive #173). Elmer Laird, president of the Back to the Farm
Organization in Davidson, SK, says poultry can be raised quite
successfully without antibiotics. This is more in evidence
as the number of farmers raising organic chickens grows.
2. Poultry are fed artificial growth hormones to stimulate
birds to kill size in 8 weeks (Rohe) thereby reducing costs
of production. Egg layers have their hormone systems overworked
so that they lay eggs at a much higher rate than is natural.
3. Genetically engineered (GE) plants and seeds are widely
used in commercial agriculture and often poultry are fed GE
soy. No one knows how this new unnatural process is going
to affect us down the road, not to mention the problem of
anyone with allergies or food sensitivities.
4. Salmonella contamination has steadily increased and according
to Dr. Douglas Archer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied
Nutrition: “There’s no question that the extent
of the salmonella contamination is due to the way chickens
are raised, the crowding and the stress.” A l978 report
by the US Advisory Committee on salmonella stated that salmonella
could be reduced by: 1) producing salmonella free food, 2)
developing clean breeding stock, 3) improving processing,
and 4) educating the public. One wonders what, if anything,
has improved since then with all the food poisonings we hear
5. In 1991 the Atlantic Constitution reported: Of 84 federal
poultry inspectors interviewed, 81 said thousands of birds
tainted or stained with feces, which a decade ago would have
been condemned, are now rinsed and sold daily. 75% of the
inspectors said that thousands of diseased birds pass from
processing lines to stores everyday.
“Fecal Soup” is created when thousands of dirty
chickens are bathed together in a chill tank which spreads
contamination from bird to bird. Up to 15% of poultry weight
consists of fecal soup, for which we consumers pay. A l988
study by USDA reported that even 40 consecutive rinses did
not adequately remove salmonella germs left by fecal contaminants.
Poultry plants salvage meat by cutting away visibly diseased
or contaminated sections and selling the rest as packaged
wings, legs, or breasts, as reported by 70 of the inspectors.
One ConAgra plant inspector said he would NEVER buy cut up
parts in a store. Mechanical eviscerating machines and feather
pickers further increase contamination by ripping open intestines
and spilling feces as well as pounding dirt and manure into
pores. Some poultry plants also use chlorine to wash chickens,
bleaching feces rather than removing it. Ingesting chlorine
is as scary to me as ingesting feces!
6. Commercially raised chickens lose all natural hen behaviour
patterns such as nest building, perching, foraging for food,
dust bathing, and wing stretching. Often all lighting is artificial,
sometimes to promote laying of eggs and forced moulting, to
keep egg production cycles in place. Battery cages (wire cages
where each bird has 64 square inches) and de-beaking are other
practices used for maximum production.
7. Large commercial operations that are non-organic are
causing concerns, for example, with groundwater. “Roughly
80% of BC’s poultry industry is located in the Fraser
Valley on lands above valuable aquifers. Nitrates and other
pollutants from manure piles seep down through sandy soils
into the groundwater.” (Alive #172) Non-organic farms
do not support soil health; organic farms focus on naturally
replenishing the soil to ensure mineral rich soil with the
proper balance of nutrients. Keeping chemicals used in grain
productions off of our plate benefits our water, our land,
our atmosphere, and our bodies.
What do I want when purchasing poultry? Ideally, organic,
for the above-mentioned reasons. Certified organic means no
antibiotics, hormones, or chemicals, or GE food. I want birds
raised with humane practices and the slaughter process to
be safe and health-promoting. I want to know we are leaving
the soil and water supplies uncontaminated and healthy for
future food supplies. I want to support the family farm and
all that entails rather than the large “agri businesses”
with their cost saving production practices.
When faced with lack of organic poultry suppliers check with
the farmer: Do they have a stress free environment, such as
open pasture and natural roosting, which supports a strong
immune system for the birds? Are the birds given space, natural
light, and non-medicated feed? hormones? antibiotics? GE soy?
How do they slaughter them? Are they allowed to grow at a
natural rate? Free range poultry is leaner, the colour and
texture are richer, and there is very little fat.
When I raised my own chickens and turkeys it was easy to
control the conditions and the feed. Finding suppliers for
organic peas and grains was relatively easy. My 82-year-old
father still raises chickens and hens for egg production.
I found organic screenings at the Haubold farm in Glenbush,
SK, and we do the best we can with grains and non-medicated
feed. If you have a farm supply, or find a concerned farmer,
educate and support them if possible to improve the flock’s
We are lucky in Saskatoon as there are a growing number
of farms raising chickens and turkeys in Saskatchewan in a
healthier manner. Check the health food stores in your area
as they often keep a list of these resources; watch the classifieds,
and ask! ask! ask! at supermarkets for better quality poultry.
We need to demand changes to eliminate antibiotics and hormones
from our food supply. Pop’s Farm in Manitoba’s
Interlake Region and the Fron Tier organic wild turkey farm
in the Pembina Valley, Manitoba, have stress-free environments,
and the latter allows 25–30 weeks for maturity as compared
to 14–16 weeks for domestic turkeys. These companies
ship frozen product to retail outlets if you cannot find local
There is an effort taking place to produce healthy pure
food but these efforts need the support of consumers; as the
demand increases, the greater the quantity available and the
lower the prices.
NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICINAL INFORMATION
Use more chicken and turkey in your diet as they are less
fat than most red meats. When fatty meats are cooked the lecithin
is destroyed, which contributes to fat deposits on artery
walls, as lecithin is needed to keep cholesterol in liquid
Chicken has a larger percentage of water than red meat and
contains no carbohydrates. Fowl is a “buildup”
food, meaning it creates more cells and repairs and builds
up our body. It is less “warming” than red meat.
If you feel hungry after a meal it usually indicates the
nutrients are out of balance. Fowl corrects this most efficiently.
Remember how our mothers always told us to have a glass
of warm milk to help us sleep? The reason was milk contains
tryptophan, abundant in chicken and turkey. Four ounces of
chicken or turkey contains 390 mg of tryptophan which raises
seratonin and seratonin tends to bring on feelings of drowsiness
and sleep. Try a chicken or turkey snack before bed or at
the last meal of the day if your digestive system cannot handle
bedtime snacking. Turkey salad made with good quality mayonnaise
on whole grain crackers combines protein and complex carbs
for balancing blood sugar and helping with sleep.
Poultry is low in fat, high in protein and tryptophan, and
a source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and
B vitamins. According to the USDA Nutrient Data Library, three
and one half ounces of chicken or turkey is about the size
of a deck of cards and contains 30 grams of protein for turkey
breast without skin and 28 grams of protein for dark meat
without skin. Chicken may contain slightly less protein, according
to some sources, but it is not significant.
BUYING, COOKING, AND STORING
Once you have found your source of good quality poultry
buy only whole birds. This saves money as well as being healthier.
Freeze immediately or store in the fridge and cook the next
day. Frozen poultry is best thawed overnight in the fridge.
A large turkey may take up to 48 hours to thaw completely.
To cut up a whole bird, all you need is a sharp knife and
a cutting board. A chilled chicken or turkey is easiest to
cut up, and after a bit of practice, takes about 10 minutes.
I like to place whole fresh turkey breasts in the freezer
for 20–30 minutes to chill well, and then slice into
turkey steaks. I buy whole fresh turkeys and cut into steaks,
legs, thighs, and wings, then I grind up any small pieces
and make lots of fresh turkey soup with the carcasses. This
takes a lot less freezer room and provides fresh meals to
serve one or more as needed. Wrap the pieces in freezer paper,
not plastic wrap, as chemicals in the plastic may leach into
the meat. Place two layers of wax paper between slices for
easy separation when frozen.
Steps for cutting up a whole bird:
1. Wash, drain. Pull on legs and wings as you cut through
the joints to separate. Open up and cut between legs and thighs
if it’s a large bird, disjoint and separate.
2. Place sharp knife between breast and back just under where
you removed the wing and slice firmly through the ribs. Repeat
on other side. Separate the joint below the wing to separate
the breast and the back.
3. Break the backbone by bending and cut it in half.
4. Cut straight down between wishbone and point of breast
to remove the wishbone with meat intact.
5. Remove breast meat from centre bone by carving down the
bone on one side of breast. Repeat on other side of breastbone.
Ground turkey or chicken can be used by itself in place
of beef, or mixed with ground beef or lamb to replace in any
recipe calling for ground red meat. It makes an excellent
chili or spaghetti sauce; add a bit of tamari soy sauce to
boost the flavour if desired, and add eggs to hold it together
if necessary for burgers, meat balls, or meatloaf.
If you must buy poultry from a supermarket, avoid “butterballs”
as they are injected with cheap oil. (Rohe) Buy grade A birds
as any others are less fully fleshed and/or may have parts
missing. Older birds are identified as, “mature,”
“stewing,” or “old,” and are useful
for soups and stews.
Leave all of those turkey-ham, turkey, or chicken hot dogs,
and lunch meats on the shelf if you want healthy nutrient-dense
food, as they have many fillers, additives, and the regular
dose of nitrates and nitrites.
Roasting whole chickens or turkeys is a simple elegant meal.
Place skinned onions or garlic in the cavity in place of stuffing,
as stuffing tends to dry the meat. Or stuff with a mixture
of chopped onions, celery, and herbs. If I want a stuffing,
I usually use a wild rice, onion, and herb mixture.
Some resources say to place roaster in a 450º F oven
for a few minutes and then reduce heat to 350º F. I prefer
to cook my birds in a slow oven (300º F) for a longer
time, with some rosemary and a bit of vegetable broth, and
then remove the cover to brown at the end of cooking if necessary.
I always cook them breast down to keep the breast moist. Chickens
are well done when the legs twist out of the sockets easily,
or use a meat thermometer. An eight pound unstuffed farm chicken
usually takes about 3 hours.
Freeze all leftover broth from simmering carcasses or parts.
Use to cook any grain. Freeze leftover veggies, any extra
chicken or turkey, and make what I call Scrappy
Soup: veggies, broth, chicken, garlic, onions, herbs,
celtic salt, and a few sea veggies. Add leftover grain or
whole grain noodles if desired.
CHICKEN WITH BROWN RICE
1 medium stewing hen
1 cup brown rice
2 small onions
3 cloves garlic
1 large ripe tomato (optional)
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced parsley
one tsp basil
celtic sea salt and sea veggies to taste
Place clean cut-up chicken in large pot with chopped onions
and garlic. Simmer with enough pure water to cover until tender
(usually 3 to 4 hours). Or use a crock pot. Amount of stock
needed at end of cooking should be about 3 cups. Melt butter
in sauce pan, add washed brown rice, brown and transfer to
chicken pot along with rest of ingredients. Continue cooking
until rice is tender.
ROSEMARY CHICKEN OR TURKEY*
One of my favourite quick meals!
1 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts or
celtic salt to taste
1 tsp crumbled rosemary leaves
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp yogurt or soy milk
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken
to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes. Turn and cook 4 minutes
more, adding rosemary during the last minute of cooking. Whisk
chicken broth, mustard, yogurt, and lemon juice together.
Remove chicken to a plate and keep warm. Drain fat from pan,
add broth mixture and boil until thickened to a sauce-like
consistency. (You could use arrowroot or another thickener
if necessary.) Return chicken to pan, coat in sauce and serve.
HONEY CURRIED CHICKEN*
My favourite chicken dish!
Combine the following to create the sauce:
1 tbsp melted honey
3/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp curry powder or to taste
Place cleaned, skinned, cut-up chicken in baking dish and
cover with sauce. Cover and bake at 300º F until nearly
cooked, uncover and bake until done. Serve with long grain
SIMPLE SESAME CHICKEN***
Simple and delicious!
8 chicken pieces or breast
2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
3–4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/4 cup sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 375º F. Place chicken pieces in baking
dish; sprinkle with soy sauce, rub with crushed garlic, and
sprinkle with sesame seeds on top. Bake 50 minutes or until
done. Serves 4–8.
CHICKEN SALAD IN ASPIC**
5 slices of tomato, 1/2 inch thick
1 tbsp unflavoured gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1-1/2 cups seasoned chicken stock
2-1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
1-3/4 tbsp chopped green pepper
1/3 cup slivered blanched almonds
1-3/4 tbsp diced celery
1-1/4 cups chopped cooked chicken
Marinate tomatoes in lemon juice. Chill. Soften gelatin
in cold water for 5 minutes. Heat chicken stock to boiling.
Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool. When syrupy in
consistency, add remaining ingredients and place in individual
molds. Chill until firm. Unmould each portion on a slice of
tomato and serve with lettuce and mayonnaise.
*taken from Nutrition, Cooking
and Healing, Paulette Millis, RNC.
**taken from Gourmet Health
Recipes, Paul and Patricia Bragg.
***taken from Cook Right for
your Blood Type, Dr. Peter D’Adamo.
References: Alive Magazine,
#172, #173, #228; Nutregram
2001: Organic Chicken is Best; The
Complete Book of Natural Foods, Fred Rohe; Food
and Healing, Anne Marie Colbin; Anti-Aging
Bible, Earl Mindell; Foods
that Heal, Bernard Jensen; Cook
Right for Your Blood Type, Peter D’Adamo.
The above information regarding nutritious food is not intended
to replace any instruction from medical or health professionals.
Paulette Millis lives and
works in Saskatoon as a nutritional consultant. Her cookbook,
Nutrition, Cooking, and Healing,
is available in health food stores or by calling (306) 244-8890.
For more information about organics in Saskatchewan check