Ovens

F for Fowl: Database Grades Chicken Producers' Ethics

It's dinnertime. Do you know where your chicken comes from?

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For many shoppers, food traceability is not only a matter of health and safety, but a question of ethics.

Unfortunately, it's not always easy to know where your food comes from, especially when it comes to poultry. The labels on chicken packages are often inscrutable, and worse, packed with certifications that border on meaningless.

Farm Forward, a non-profit based in Portland, Oregon, is working to streamline choosing a poultry provider with BuyingPoultry. It's an online database containing thousands of poultry products, all graded in terms of how well the animals were treated.

Here’s how it works: BuyingPoultry analyzes products and rates brands based on their birds’ welfare. This includes where they’re allowed to roam, whether or not they’ve been clipped, and how much of an effort (if any) is made to reduce their stress and pain when they ultimately shuffle off this mortal coil.

The grades are scholastic, with “F” representing no certification, “C” representing industry standard practices, and “A” grades given to organizations that substantially exceed industry standards. It's similar in concept to the Whole Foods 5-step system, but applicable to chicken you'd find at your local Kroger or Safeway.

Philosophically, BuyingPoultry is more than just a product rating system. It's an attempt to remind shoppers that the chicken they're buying is more than just a product in the first place.

BuyingPoultry is an attempt to remind consumers that poultry is more than just a product in the first place.

At commercial scale, poultry farming in the U.S. is a game of cost-effectiveness. Very little (if any) attention is paid to the comfort and safety of the birds. Their diet and living arrangements can hardly be called "natural," and the slaughtering process isn't designed with the animals' comfort in mind.

Farm Forward believes that when people are empowered to make ethical decisions about which businesses they support, they'll have the ability to upset the status quo. That could bring real change to an industry whose practices are increasingly unpalatable to the average consumer.

Seafood lovers looking for something similar should check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's free Seafood Watch app (iOS), which offers recommendations for restaurants and stores that sell sustainable, ocean-friendly seafood.