Click on an image below to learn about the environmental impact of your food choices.
Chickens are often reported as using much less fossil fuel/pound than cows and pigs. However, when processing is included, eating chicken uses as much fossil fuels as larger animals. This use increases for organic and free range chickens.
In addition, the number of pounds of chicken eaten per year by the average American has been increasing as consumers think of chicken and turkey as healthier than cows and pigs. Americans eat an average of just under 100 pounds of chicken per person per year, according to the National Chicken Council. As a result, fossil fuel usage by the poultry industry is increasing. And, remember all that feed given to chickens? It becomes manure that gets dumped and ends up in water supplies.
It takes 518 gallons of water for each pound of chicken used for food, according to the organization Water Footprint. While this is smaller than the 1,847 gallons needed for each pound of cow, it is still quite a bit of water.
In addition to the water used to produce chickens, there is the environmental problem of disposing of all that chicken waste. A recent PBS Frontline report showed how chicken waste is largely responsible for the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.The nitrogen from chicken waste causes algae to grow in the Bay, depriving the water of oxygen and leading to the death of fish and shellfish in the waters. This pollution affects 64,000 square miles of the Bay around sixe states.
Most people are enchanted by the sounds of birds in the morning. On walks, they stop to look and identify birds and are thrilled to see unusal birds in the wild. Few of these make the connection between wild birds and the birds on their plates: chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
More than seven billion chickens are killed for food each year in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, there are no federal laws to protect these animals from abuse. Chickens and turkeys are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA); no laws protect birds from torture or cover living conditions before slaughter. Even most free range chickens live miserable lives, confined in large sheds with little access to the outside and little ability to behave like chickens.
Many researchers have discussed the greenhouse gases produced by the poultry industry. Although these are less than greenhous gas emmisstion from cattle and pigs, they are still significant. For example, experts at the University of Georgia Extension write:
Much of the CO2e that is generated from the poultry industry is primarily from the utilization of fossil fuels. This may be from purchased electricity, propane use in stationary combustion units (such as furnaces or incinerators), and diesel use in mobile combustion units such as trucks, tractors, and generators that are used on the farm. In the animal industry, the consumption of plants (feed) by animals eventually results in the division of the carbon into animal biomass (meat and eggs), CO2 respired by animals, and fecal deposition of carbon in unutilized coproducts (manure).
Aside from the emissions from fossil fuel used on poultry farms, these nitrous oxide and methane gases are also emitted from manure during handling and storage. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions are dependent on management decisions about manure disposal and storage as these gases are formed in decomposing manures as a by-product of nitrification/ denitrification and methanogenesis, respectively. Stored manure will only be emitting nitrous oxide if nitrification occurs, which is likely to take place provided there is adequate supply of oxygen. Also, indirect GHG emissions of ammonia and other nitrogen compounds occur from manure management systems and soils.
The web site United Poultry Concerns have highligted how factory chicken farms pollute fresh water and seawater. They write:
The poultry industry is a major cause of environmental degradation in the United States. It kills fish and other wildlife and it makes people sick. In nature chickens and turkeys range in small flocks over wide areas contributing to the health and beauty of the land. In poultry factory farming, thousands of birds are crammed unnaturally into extremely small areas. Filth, ugliness and disease are the result of this unwholesome and unnatural confinement of living creatures.
Chickens used as "broiler chickens", raised and then slaughtered to be eaten, experience horrendous conditions during their lifetimes, a shame for such social, intelligent animals. In his book "Meatonomics," David Robinson Simon outlines some of the conditions for factory farmed chickens (similar conditions exist for factory farmed turkeys):
"If you grew as fast as a chicken," according to the University of Arkansas Divison of Agriculture, "you'd weigh 349 pounds at age two". Broiler chickens - so-called because they yield meat, not eggs - are bred to get as big as possible as fast as possible ... The repaid growth and distored body size of broiler chickens means their legs and organs can't keep pace with the rest of their body, often leading to disease and deformity.
They can't walk so well, either. Ninety percent of broiler chickens have abnormal gaits caused by genetic bone deformities ... "Broilers" wrote Professor John Webser of the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science, "are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20 percent of their lives" ... Six week old broilers have such a hard time supporting their abnormally heavey bodies that they spend up to 86 percent of their time lying down."For source, see book "Meatanomics," by David Robinson Simon, p. 218. Published by Conari Press, 2013
If you have ever visited a farm sanctuary and spent time among the chickens, it is clear that chickens have a social hierarchy and they communicate with each other. Animal behavioral scientists say that chickens: