Chicken is America’s favorite meat, but it shouldn’t be. The responsibility for its production falls on the backs of thousands of farmers who are risking their entire livelihoods just to meet demand. Together, through sustained dialogue, we can change their minds.
Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, about 85 pounds per year. In 1950, 581 million chickens lived on more than 1.6 million farms across the United States, according to PEW Trusts.
Less than 60 years later, 98% of those farms disappeared, even though Americans are eating way more chicken.
Broiler chicken sales jumped by 1,400% over the same time period, but chicken farmers didn’t necessarily benefit. By 2007, the industry had moved away from smaller family farms and consolidated dramatically, raising some 8.9 billion chickens on about 27,000 factory farms. For chicken farmers, that meant bigger loans on bigger farming operations to try and meet demand–while risking their entire livelihoods.
“Chicken is America’s favorite meat, but it’s on the backs of these people,” says Leah Garcés, President of Mercy For Animals and author the forthcoming book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry.
The industrialized growing systems all-too-common in the U.S. aren’t just producing more chicken. With the help of feed additives, modernized processing plants, antibiotics, and crude disregard for animal welfare, they were producing bigger chickens at a faster rate.
“If you have the opportunity to sit down with a meat producer or a factory farmer, and you have one shot at it, one chance to change their mind, how would you approach the problem?
“It’s not coming at it with hate in their heart. It’s coming at it from a position where you’re open to understanding why they’re resisting [change]. It’s asking, and hoping to inspire meat industry food businesses to embrace a plant-based protein, clean meat, that don’t put them out of business, but take them towards a new way.”
Matt is an award-winning independent journalist. His reporting has been featured in USA Today, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Vox, PBS, and NPR, among others.