There’s lots to learn about Australian chicken meat. Here are answers to some of our most popular questions. If you have something else you want to know, let us know on our Contact page.
Chickens that are grown in Australia to produce the chicken meat that you eat (as opposed to those that lay eggs) are not kept in cages. They are raised on the floor in large barns, where ventilation systems control the barn environment, such as the temperature and air quality. Some farms also provide the chickens with access to an outdoors area or range.
Australian chickens are not given hormones in any way. Their size occurs naturally due to selective breeding and optimal nutrition. Over a decade’s worth of residue monitoring of chicken meat by the National Residue Survey confirmed this to be the case.
A key reason may be that the chickens sold these days in supermarkets, butcher shops and chicken shops are much bigger than what they may recall them to have been 20, 30 or 40 years ago, and it may be easy to conclude that this must be the result of some unnatural intervention. The actual reason for this increased growth rate and size is the ongoing extensive selective breeding programs that have been adopted by the industry over the past 60 years. For more information on the origin of the hormone myth, see this blog: http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/the-hormone-myth/
Almost all chicken meat consumed in Australia is grown domestically. To protect the local chickens from diseases, raw chicken meat can only be imported under strict protocols, which to date poultry producers in other countries have been unable to meet. The exception to this is chicken produced in New Zealand, which has a similar favourable disease status to Australia. Some cooked chicken meat, mainly as an ingredient to processed food (e.g. canned chicken, soups or animal food), may be imported but only if the chicken meat is processed in accordance with the required protocols (fully retorted at high temperatures to effectively sterilise the product) to ensure that there is no unacceptable risk to Australian poultry or consumers. Small amounts of raw chicken meat are also imported from New Zealand. Less than 1% of all chicken meat and products sold in Australia is imported.
Chickens are not genetically engineered or modified. Improvements in their growth, feed conversion efficiency, tenderness and other characteristics are entirely due to traditional cross-breeding and selective breeding techniques (read more here).
Traditional breeding techniques, also called selective breeding, involves selecting the chickens with the most desirable traits (genetic characteristics) as parents for the next generation and repeating this generation after generation (there are about 50 chicken generations to every human generation so that the past 50 years of commercial breeding are equivalent to over 2000 years of human evolution).
This simple but effective mechanism has allowed all agricultural industries (grains, horticulture, dairy, meat etc.) to improve their products and their productivity. Poultry is no different from the other sectors in this respect, although the process is more effective because of the greater control over it, the international approach, the large number of breeding animals that can be maintained and the shorter generation times.
Soya bean meal, which provides an important source of protein and amino acids in the chicken diet, is not usually available in sufficient quantities in Australia and has to be imported. Much of the world’s soya bean production is genetically modified and in countries such as the US, traditional soya bean meal becomes mixed with genetically modified meal during processing, storage and distribution. Guaranteed non-GM soya bean meal can no longer be sourced in sufficient quantities to meet the poultry industry’s needs and thus chicken feed will often contain GM soya bean meal. Another important source of protein and amino acids in chicken diets comes from locally grown canola seed. About a quarter of all canola grown in Australia is GM.
Meat chickens have been selectively bred over the past 60 years for a variety of characteristics, including growth rate and efficiency to convert feed into meat. This is why they reach the desired market weight and quality more quickly than the progenitor breeds of chickens from which they were originally derived.
Two answers to this one:
All raw meat and many other foods contain bacteria and most are harmless. However, some of these bacteria, when ingested in sufficient quantities, can produce food poisoning. The good news is that all these organisms are very easily killed by normal cooking temperatures. Therefore, if you cook chicken properly and follow basic hygienic food handling practices in the kitchen then the risk is removed.
Chicken should always be thoroughly cooked. Cooking to a temperature of 75 degrees Celsius at the centre of the thickest part of the meat should be sufficient. The amount of time you need to cook chicken of course depends upon the type of cut and how big it is, although a good rule of thumb is you cook it for about an hour per kilo. The safest way to know whether the chicken meat is adequately cooked is to use a digital thermometer pierced into the thickest part of the meat. There should also be no pink coloured meat right through the thickest part and, when pierced, the juices that run out should be clear, not pink.
The chicken industry has a responsibility to maintain the health and welfare of the chickens in its care. While strict protocols and refined husbandry processes are in place chickens may still require medications to prevent or treat disease. Only antibiotics approved by Australia’s regulatory authorities are used, and if used, they must be administered in accordance with strict guidelines so that they do not leave unsafe residues. For details on the industry’s antibiotics policy, please see our position statement on Antibiotics.
All chickens have access to a barn or other enclosed housing for their protection from predators and adverse weather. As the name indicates, free range chickens are allowed access to an outside run in which they can freely range outside their sheds during the day. Organic chickens are fed on diets prepared from ingredients that are not treated with insecticides or pesticides. In addition, space allowances are higher, and only chickens that have not been given antibiotics at any stage during their life should be sold under an organic label or under the Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA) mark. For more information, you may wish to consult the website of the specific industry organisations, for example Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd (FREPA) and the Organic Federation of Australia.
Free range chickens, regardless of the standard that is being used, will spend the first few weeks of their life, until they are fully feathered, inside an enclosed chicken barn. This is because without their adult feathers they are extremely susceptible to the cold, and at this young age they are also very vulnerable to predation. After they have sufficient adult feather cover to handle the outside temperatures and big enough that they aren’t easily taken by aerial predators, they are allowed access to an outside area in daylight hours. They spend the night inside the chicken barn, however, so that they are protected from predators. During the day, not all chickens are outside at all times. In particular if the weather is wet, very hot or windy they may prefer spending time inside. Some chickens appear to use the outside area more than others. Water and feed is only made available inside the barn for biosecurity reasons.
No feed or water is offered outside on the range because it would attract wild birds and rodents, which are a major source of bacteria and viruses that could affect the health of the chickens, and also pose potential risk to consumers.
The ACMF does not keep information on suppliers of day old stock or pullets for non-commercial production, so we will be unable to help you with your enquiry. However, we offer the following suggestions.
If you are interested in keeping or breeding fancy or exhibition poultry (eg particular breeds of chicken), it is suggested that you contact the Royal Agricultural Society in your State or Territory for a contact with the fancy poultry or exhibition poultry breeders association in your area.
If you are interested in obtaining some commercial strains of poultry for your own consumption or eggs, then we suggest that you look in the classified section of your region or state’s weekly rural newspaper or magazine (eg The Land), under ‘Poultry’ for suppliers of day old chickens and pullets.
Before you embark upon keeping your own poultry, it may be advisable to check with your local Council to make sure there are no regulations or restrictions placed on the keeping of poultry in your area. It is also recommended that you speak with your state Department of Primary Industries or Agriculture about sensible precautions to take to protect and monitor the health of your flock.
Further information and things you need to consider can be found here.
No, you do not need a rooster for a hen to produce eggs. A hen will lay (unfertilised) eggs irrespective of whether there is a rooster on the scene or not. All commercial eggs you buy in the supermarket (or any other retail outlet) have been produced this way ie they are all unfertilized eggs. A hen produces the same number of eggs if there is no rooster around than she would if there were a rooster around.
However, the only way you can get an embryo growing in an egg (and chickens hatched from an egg) is to have the hen’s ovum fertilized by sperm from a rooster while it is in the hen’s shell gland. To produce fertile eggs from which you can hatch chicks, therefore, you need a rooster.
Australia is internationally accepted to be free of avian influenza in poultry flocks, and the risk of an outbreak is low due to the strict biosecurity protocols that are in place. In the rare event of an outbreak of avian influenza occurring in an Australian poultry flock, industry, in partnership with government, has a well-rehearsed and up-to-date response plan which would come into play to rapidly eradicate the disease. Australia is extremely well prepared for such a possibility – the key to control is early detection and notification and rapid tracing of birds and products to remove any possible source of infection from the supply chain.
Halal refers to food that is prepared in a way that makes it fit for consumption by Muslims.
Many butchers and supermarkets sell Halal certified chicken meat.
The chicken must be processed in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the Muslim faith, which requires that:
There are no practical differences in how the chickens are killed and processed between Halal and non-Halal – the only differences are the three points listed above. A person observing the actual process would be unable to distinguish one from the other and staffing levels are identical. All poultry must be stunned before being killed.
Because the physical process is the same for both Halal and non Halal products and there is no additional cost involved, approved processing plants may process a whole day’s chickens observing the Halal requirements, with only some of the product being required to be Halal certified.
There is quite a bit of information on our website on antibiotics use in chicken production. Go to the position statement section of the website for details. In a nutshell, antibiotics are used to treat or prevent disease but regular independent testing conducted by the National Residue Survey shows that there are no unsafe antibiotic residues found in chicken meat. The use of antibiotics is strictly regulated and administration is under veterinary supervision.
The regulations ensure that antibiotics that could find their way into the meat are not used or only used at an early stage of the bird’s life so that there is sufficient time for any residue to be naturally degraded. Given that no unsafe residues are found in Australian chicken meat, even people with allergies to certain antibiotics don’t have to miss out on eating delicious Australian chicken.
The fine white striations on chicken meat that can sometimes be seen running parallel to the regular muscle are sometimes referred to as “white striping”. White striping in chicken meat is seen worldwide. It is not a food safety issue, nor does it indicate a bird welfare issue. The condition results from the substitution of muscle tissue with connective tissue and some fatty deposits.
We do see it here in Australia. When it occurs, it’s generally seen in a mild form. There are varying scientific opinions as to the cause of the condition, including most recently that the amino acid composition of the chicken diet can influence it. However, the causes of the condition are still being researched.
Yes, where immersion chilling (“spin chilling”) is used to rapidly reduce the temperature of freshly dressed chicken carcasses, the water used must be chlorinated or contain a chemical sanitiser approved for food contact. The majority of meat chickens in Australia are currently processed in plants which use a chlorinated water chiller. Chlorination of the water during immersion chilling assists in killing bacteria in the water and maintaining sanitary processing conditions, similar to the treatment of drinking water or swimming pool water.
Yes, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), along with other food safety regulators and standard setting bodies around the world, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (which sets international standards for food safety), amongst others, have assessed the safety of chlorine in poultry processing and deemed the use of chlorinated water at the levels used in spin chillers, both safe and effective.
The use of chlorine in spin chillers is not new – it is a practice that has been employed for decades in Australia, and has contributed to safer poultry meat products as a result.