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South Valley Journal

Riverton graduate discovers similarities, differences in organic and conventional chicken

Dec 06, 2016 02:48PM ● By Tori LaRue

Kimberly McClellan holds a chicken she raised. McClellan raised two groups of chickens at her home in Riverton to test the impact of organic and conventional feed on chicken meat. (Jessie Hadfield)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Farmers and consumers wonder whether there’s a significant difference between organic and conventional chicken meat, so one 2016 Riverton High School graduate made it her quest to find out. 

“A lot of people are concerned about genetically modified organisms in the food supply, and not just in fresh produce, but also meat because a lot of animals for consumption eat food with GMOs,” said Kimberly McClellan, 18. “I wanted to expand my own knowledge so I could help consumers know what they are eating, so that’s why I decide to do my projects.”  

Two years ago, McClellan compared the physical and thermal properties of store-bought certified organic chicken meat and store-bought chicken meat that was not certified. The conventional meat was more tender and held more water, according to her studies, leading her to believe it was a higher quality product. Not wanting to end her research there, McClellan decided to raise her own chickens and compare the data. 

In October 2015, McClellan started raising two groups of chicks. She said the only difference in the way she raised the chicks was the kind of food she fed them. One group ate food that was guaranteed GMO-free. The other group ate standard chicken feed. When it came time to harvest the meat 12 weeks later, McClellan took the meat to a Utah State University meat lab to test its properties. 

“I was very surprised,” McClellan said about the results. “This year, we found that there wasn’t a significant difference in the groups. These results imply that instead of the feed causing the difference, it has more to do with the husbandry practices.” 

McClellan went on to explain that the two kinds of store-bought chicken likely had a very different upbringing. Organic chickens must be free-range, so they might get more exercise and exposure to the outdoors, creating a tougher meat product upon harvest. Organic chickens may also grow slower than conventional chickens, so farmers may be slaughtering organic chickens later.

McClellan’s two groups of chickens, however, were raised in the same manner besides their feed, which explains why there wasn’t a significant difference in their physical and thermal properties, McClellan said. 

As a member of Riverton High School’s chapter of Future Farmers of America, an agricultural leadership organization in America for youth, McClellan used her project at competitions. She won the state competition during the end of her senior year and was one of the 15 students invited to the national competition in Indianapolis on Oct. 19–22 within her division. 

“It was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to have that experience,” McClellan said. “I felt very lucky to go and present even though it was a little bit nerve-racking.” 

The Riverton FFA representative did not place at nationals, but she said it was an honor “just to be there.” 

Her favorite part about the trip wasn’t presenting to the judges but presenting to the public. Nationals included a convention and expo where locals could come shop, eat and hear from the students who presented at the competition. McClellan set up a booth to display her findings. 

“They were really surprised,” McClellan said about the people who stopped by her booth. “It was great to educate people.” 

Although McClellan must make her way out of the FFA program because it’s designed for high schoolers, she said she plans to complete her American FFA degree within the next year. The degree is the highest award within the FFA program and is given to people who complete enough projects within the program. 

After completing her degree, McClellan said she will pursue agricultural learning in other facets. She said she’s interested in becoming an agricultural teacher, a reporter that specializes in agriculture or a vet tech.

“I will definitely continue agriculture, because I’ve really developed a passion for it,” she said. “For me, it’s the most important we can be involved in.”