Pasture raising of chickens (with plenty of time allowed for pecking, foraging, and moving around outdoors) has been recently analyzed, with fascinating results, by a team of researchers at the University of Perugia in Perugia, Italy. In their study, conventional indoor raising of chickens was compared with organic raising (some outdoor access, but mostly higher quality feed) and also with "organic plus"—meaning organic feed with meaningful time spent outdoors. While organic standards—all by themselves—were sufficient to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in breast meat obtained from the chickens, it took more than organic standards to improve the breast meat in two other important respects: increase in total antioxidant nutrients and decrease in risk of oxidative damage to fats in the meat. These additional benefits were not observed in the comparison of conventional to organic breast meat, but only in the comparison of organic-plus (pastured) to organic meat. It's worth noting that in this study, "pastured" not only meant time outdoors foraging, pecking, and moving about but also the presence of outdoor space that averaged 10 square meters per bird. The authors concluded that pasture activities were directly linked to the health quality of the meat. These findings are one key reason for our recommendation that chicken be purchased not only when certified as organic, but also when genuinely pasture-raised.
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