According to UK researchers, organic chicken breasts contain lower levels of essential fatty acids and antioxidants than conventional and free-range alternatives.

N-3 fatty acids contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular disease and assist with the growth and development of the central nervous system (CNS). Certain n-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), have roles in the prevention of cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel diseases. In comparison to other meats, chicken is relatively abundant in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), including the key n-3 fatty acids, as diets of fast growing broilers are generally rich in PUFA, the researchers said.

Tests on supermarket chicken breasts revealed that organic products contained lower levels of health-boosting omega 3 fatty acids than other varieties, including non-organic free-range poultry.

Organic chicken also contains lower levels of antioxidants that conventionally raised chicken, the study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, claimed.

"Breed of chicken, and the type of feed have influences on fatty acid composition and would merit further studies with larger samples, especially as the two organic products we investigated were significantly different and less nutritionally desirable in lipid composition than the two standard chickens," the study concluded.

The researchers suggested that the disparity noted between the nutritional content of organic and conventional chicken could be the consequence of restrictions imposed on the diet of organic birds. Synthetic vitamin supplements, which are routinely added to conventional feed, are banned under organic farming rules, as is feed with GM additives.

The researchers suggested: "Dietary supplementation with AT could be important for the oxidative stability of beneficial n-3 PUFAs in chicken meat and its use should be considered by organic producers wishing to produce a wholesome product."