By Amy Feldman

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Ever wonder what free range chicken means? Yeah, so does the Food and Drug Administration.

While most people who think of the term free range envision chickens living on a family farm on a grassy hill, clucking and pecking to their hearts content, under the law, free range is defined differently.

The US Food and Drug Administration regulations say that in order to be certified “free range”, the chickens must have access to the outside. It doesn’t define either the size of the range or the length of access. And last month, the FDA released a new proposal that further confuses the issue.

Turns out that more access to nature isn’t as lovely as it sounds. When chickens come into contact with other wildlife like mice, rats, and wild birds, they have a tendency to pick up salmonella which can contaminate their meat and eggs. So the FDA now proposes that free range chickens be fenced in to prevent rats or mice, and that a roof be put in to prevent wild birds from entering.

So now the definition of free range seems to include a roof and walls. Hm. Perplexing.

So if you like free range chicken because you think it tastes better, go for it. But if you’re paying more to see the words free and range on the label, think carefully about what the law says that means.

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