Farmed chickens taste better than free-range, say scientists
It will undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers among campaigning celebrity chefs.
Scientists claim that organic chickens do not taste as good as battery-farmed birds.
Their study, involving a blind taste-test, found that the battery birds had a superior flavour and texture and were more juicy.
The results will upset the organic farming industry, which claims that the better welfare their birds enjoy leads to better meat – and justifies the heftier price tag.
They may also hamper the efforts of chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to encourage the public to go organic.
The study, published in the journal British Poultry Science, was carried out at Bristol University.
Researchers gave ten tasters samples from 120 chickens which had been reared in various ways.
Dr Paul Warriss, who led the study at the university’s school of veterinary science, said: "In general, higher ratings were given for texture, juiciness, flavour and overall preference for meat from the birds reared in the standard system."
He added: "The common perception is that organic chickens will be much tastier, but this was not the case.
"This may be to do with the fact that intensively farmed birds are eaten at a much younger age, so they will be less tough than older birds."
Sales of organic and free-range chickens have soared following television programmes by Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall. Retail analysts said earlier this year that sales were increasing twice as fast as those of standard chickens, despite organic birds being up to three times the price.
Dr Warriss said his findings did not mean the end of the organic or free-range chicken, adding: "People also buy free-range chickens for ethical reasons."
The organic meat used in the 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 and are also linked to creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs with serious human health implications."
Another study found that organic poultry is actually less nutritious and contains more fat than its mass-produced equivalent.
Tests on supermarket chicken breasts showed that organic versions contained lower levels of health-boosting omega 3 fatty acids than other varieties, including non-organic free-range poultry.
The compounds, present in high levels in oily fish, are thought to combat heart disease and boost intelligence.
Organic chicken also contained lower levels of antioxidants, compounds which mop up harmful molecules called free radicals.
The chicken – from birds which are raised as naturally as possible and are given antibiotics only when they are actually ill – contained up to twice as much cholesterol.
Earlier this year Delia Smith went head-to-head with her fellow TV chefs by supporting the sale of battery chickens.
She said that access to cheap chicken is crucial for poor families and pensioners.
"I certainly don’t like the way battery chickens are reared but on the other hand I’m aware we still have a lot of poverty, particularly among children, and I feel that’s a disgrace," she said.
"We have got to make sure everybody gets enough nutritious food to eat in the first place."
Source: Daily Mail