Knowledge for better food systems

Eating Better: We need to talk about chicken

This report from the UK’s Eating Better alliance argues that replacing red meat with chicken is not a sustainable solution, and that growing consumption of poultry meat comes with costs to health, the environment, animal welfare and rural livelihoods. The report calls for reduced chicken consumption in the UK (to be replaced with plant proteins such as beans and nuts), and shifting away from intensive chicken farming towards “mixed and regenerative farming systems”.

Key points from the report include:

  • Global chicken consumption in wealthy countries has increased by 70% since 1990.
  • In the UK, chicken consumption has recently overtaken red meat consumption.
  • In the UK, 95% of chickens raised for meat (broilers) are raised in intensive indoor units, with only a small fraction being raised in organic or free-range systems.
  • Intensive chicken farming relies heavily on antibiotic use, because of the crowding of chickens and their waste. The industry has voluntarily cut its use of medically important antibiotics by 80% per unit of chicken between 2012 and 2018.
  • Broilers consume more human-edible feed than pastured cattle, per kg of meat. One component of broiler feed is soy, which is linked to deforestation.
  • Intensive chicken production has been linked to pollution of waterways (through nitrate leaching) and the air (through ammonia emissions, which can be harmful to human health).
  • Compared to several decades ago, chicken meat now contains more fat and lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, phosphorus and B vitamins.
  • The UK chicken supply chain is largely controlled by a small number of companies, with just two breeding companies providing over 90% of broiler stock.

Read the full report, We need to talk about chicken, here. See also the Foodsource building block Soy: food, feed, and land use change and Walter Fraanje’s blog post Soy in the UK: What are its uses?

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