Eaters in the U.S. have made a big pivot to chicken. Since 1970, beef farming has stayed steady, but chicken consumption has more than doubled with production increasing fivefold. Part of the reason is the incredibly low cost of chicken, thanks to a highly efficient industry that relies on quick-growing breeds, inexpensive feed and tight quarters packed with animals.
How Many Chickens Are Killed Each Year?
In the U.S. alone over 8 billion chickens are killed every year by the food industry. Worldwide, estimates suggest more than 70 billion chickens are killed each year, not including chickens killed by the egg industry.
Broiler chickens — chickens raised for their meat — are bred to gain weight at a rapid pace so they can be slaughtered at around 6 weeks old. The selective breeding used by the industry also causes chickens painful and debilitating health problems. The industry kills vast numbers of birds at a time, prioritizing efficiency over the welfare of the animals.
Male chicks born in egg industry settings are victims of animal agriculture. Just hours after hatching, chicks in the egg industry are separated by sex, with at least 7 billion male chicks immediately sent to their death each year. Typically they are either suffocated, decapitated, crushed or electrocuted at several hours old.
Chickens have the potential to reach 15 years in age, but farmed chickens typically live a fraction of this length of time. Laying hens live the longest, reaching the end of their lives at just 20 months old. Once they’ve reached this age, generally after having laid around 300 eggs, hens’ egg production tends to decrease, they are considered no longer useful and are sent to slaughter.
What Animal Is Killed the Most for Food?
As global demand for meat increases, more animals than ever are ending up bred, raised and slaughtered for food. When it comes to land animals, chickens are by far the most commonly killed — other than insects who are farmed in the trillions. Aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish are farmed and caught in much higher numbers than chickens, while the numbers of cows and pigs are lower but still significant.
How Many Cows Are Killed Each Year?
In the U.S., 33 million cows are killed every year, with global numbers of cows killed reaching 300 million. This includes beef cattle, male dairy calves and female dairy cows deemed by farms to be no longer productive.
How Many Pigs Are Killed Each Year?
Pigs are another species of animal also killed in their millions for human food production. Each year in the U.S. over 130 million pigs are slaughtered. In 2020, 1.5 billion pigs around the world were killed for their meat.
How Many Fish Are Killed Each Year?
The number of fish killed each year is difficult to quantify because instead of being counted as individuals, fish are counted by their collective weight. What we do know is that many billions of aquatic animals are slaughtered for food every year.
How Many Animals Are Killed Each Year?
Over the last 50 years global demand for meat has tripled. We currently produce around 340 million metric tons of meat each year, which is equal to over 70 billion land animals.
Animal Consumption Facts and Statistics
In order to meet the rising global demand for meat, the animal farming industry has increasingly turned to intensive farming operations, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms, for meat production. These operations keep huge numbers of animals in confined environments to produce as much meat as quickly and cheaply as possible. Efficiency is prized over animal welfare especially in poultry operations — indeed 70 percent of broiler chickens are raised in this type of farming system. Chickens are bred to grow at an unnaturally rapid rate to sizes that endanger their health, while kept in densely packed environments with very little space to move around until they are slaughtered at 6 weeks old.
We Are Eating More Meat per Person Than Ever
Over the last 30 years the volume of meat we consume has doubled, and it is still on the rise today. By the year 2050 we could produce as much as 570 million tonnes of meat, double what was produced in 2008. When we look at the average amount of meat consumed by individuals, the U.S. adult is the largest consumer, buying 124 kilograms of meat every year. Some African countries, on the other hand, consume under 20 kilograms of meat per person per year.
Because it generally costs less than other types of meat to produce, demand for poultry meat is rapidly increasing. By 2030 it is estimated that poultry production will have increased by a further 17 percent. The U.S. is currently the highest consumer of poultry meat, consuming around 15,000 tons of chicken meat every year. China is next in line, consuming around 12,000 tons per year.
Meat Production Costs the Earth
The animal agricultural industry is responsible for a wide range of environmental impacts, including its role as the single largest cause of deforestation. For animals to be raised and food to be grown to feed these animals, extensive areas of rainforest are burned and cleared every year.
Meat production is also responsible for using vast amounts of water, with 1 kilogram of beef, for example, requiring over 15,000 liters of water and 1 kilogram of chicken requiring over 4,000 liters of water. In addition to this, the animal agriculture industry is responsible for at least 16.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions primarily come from the cattle burps, dairy and pig manure, animal feed production, and land use change.
Although poultry farming is responsible for fewer emissions, all plant-based proteins are far lower in emissions, including healthy sources like legumes, seeds and nuts and tofu. In addition, poultry processing is responsible for higher levels of animal suffering, on top of labor rights abuses and contributions to air and water pollution.
Meat Is Bad for Our Health
Although many see it as an essential source of protein and other nutrients, studies show certain higher health risks are associated with eating large quantities of meat. These are particularly clear for red meat and processed meat, which have been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer.
The impact of meat production on human health extends beyond what we directly consume. The stress and confinement of factory farms causes animals to be more susceptible to infection, with the links between intensively farming animals, deforestation and the emergence of zoonotic diseases becoming increasingly apparent.
The Meat Substitute Market Is Growing
Although global demand for meat is currently on the rise, there is also growing demand for substitutes for meat-based products, albeit still at a fraction of the global meat industry. For those who particularly enjoy eating meat, making the switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet can be challenging, so scientists are working on alternatives including plant-based and cultivated meats, sometimes called lab-grown meat by the public. Lab-grown meat is biologically identical to animal meat, but grown in a bioreactor instead of requiring the raising and slaughter of an animal. The result is far less animal suffering — or even none in serum-free varieties — and much lower pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than beef.
Demand for lab-grown meat is expected to make the industry worth over $300 million by 2029. Where the meat substitute market is really making strides is in plant-based meat substitutes. It’s estimated that from being worth $29.4 billion in 2020, the industry could grow to $162 billion by 2030.
What You Can Do
By swapping out meat and dairy in your diet for plant-based alternatives, you reduce the amount of animal suffering and environmental pollution associated with your diet. According to Project Drawdown, dietary change to a plant-rich diet is one of the most effective forms of climate action. For tips on how to adopt a plant-rich diet, consult our Take Action guide.