The Case for Healthier Chickens

In a clip called “Why Whole Foods Wants A Slower-Growing Chicken,” Dan Charles of NPR discusses how selective breeding has produced chickens that grow faster and larger than ever before. In fact, these chickens grow so big that their legs often have trouble supporting their own weight. Chickens that are chosen to live longer for breeding purposes also have difficulties reproducing due to their size and poor health. In response to these disturbing circumstances, Whole Foods is now calling for farms to start breeding chickens that grow more slowly. The results will be beneficial for both the animals and humans: better health for chickens, and more flavorful meat for humans.  

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While listening to this story I was immediately reminded of how in the documentary “King Corn” they show the confinement spaces on cattle ranches and how the cows were growing extremely big, extremely quickly due to the dangerous amounts of corn they were consuming. This suggests that breeding or raising fast-growing animals for slaughter is a trend across the board in the meat industry. Such a trend is highly problematic and riddled with ethical, nutritional, and environmental concerns. Obviously the animals are not being treated as well as they could or should be, and their treatment will inevitably have effects that ripple down to the nutritional value of the meat. Because they are not being raised freely with plenty of space to move their meat will be more fatty, resulting in less healthy food for humans. Thus, fair treatment of animals can be viewed not only as an animal problem but as a human issue as well. Moreover, breeding fast-growing animals for slaughter also has negative environmental implications. A higher number of bigger animals requires larger quantities of feed for them, thereby increasing the amount of food grown and waste produced. Food for animals must come from somewhere and ultimately end up somewhere else, which raises the question of how much longer the environment will be able to sustain such an intense and demanding food production system.

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Chicken never used to be a popular meat for Americans; however, due to a greater number of chickens and lower costs, it is now one of the most popular meats in America. This shows that the food production system works like a business in order to cut prices and influence the market. It has thereby also affected many elements of American culture: what is available for us to eat as consumers, what we can afford to eat, what we enjoy eating, etc.

As discussed in both “King Corn” and this NPR clip, the meat industry truly does have a holistic impact on our world. It affects countless aspects of our lives, from the treatment of animals and consequently our nutrition to the food that we find on grocery store shelves. Hopefully the food industry will recognize the enormous impact they have and begin to make changes towards a more positive, healthy, sustainable system.

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