- A new study by the National Chicken Council (NCC), the trade association representing the broiler chicken industry, outlines the environmental and economic benefits of raising slower-growing chickens. The NCC has also asked that more research be done on health implications of chickens' growth rates, according to the organization.
- If only 33% of broiler chicken producers made the switch to a slower-growing breed, approximately 1.5 billion additional birds would need to be raised to produce an equivalent amount of meat. This would require a hefty increase in water, land and fuel consumption.
- Additionally, if a third of producers made the switch and others did not pick up the slack, the chicken supply would decrease to 27.5 billion fewer meals per year, costing the industry around $9 billion.
The NCC is just one of many organizations advocating for more balance in chicken growing and further investigation into the impact of slower growing chickens.
William Muir, a poultry geneticist at Purdue University, told NPR chickens that gain muscle quickly have long been considered the best for poultry production, but this weight can overwhelm a young chicken's bones. Slower growth is seen as being more humane for the animals.
Last March, Whole Foods announced it supported the Global Animal Partnership’s standards, which require all producers to move away from fast-growth breeds of chicken. It’s a move that other retailers have been in favor for as well. By 2024, the natural grocery chain plans to replace all of its chickens with ones that are grown more slowly.
The debate between animal welfare advocates and poultry producers looking for heavier profits won't end any time soon. However, consumer interest in mission-based products and animal welfare may sway producers to change their practices. If manufacturers feel pressured to use more ethically raised poultry in their formulas, this could spur chicken producers to explore slower growing breeds, rather than risk being dropped by brands.
Though animal welfare is generally viewed as a niche consumer concern, more and more shoppers are paying attention to food labels and the supply chains of meat products. The issue of chicken growth could experience the same rise in consumer interest as antibiotics have in recent years, so it would be wise for producers to consider the pros and cons of raising slow growing breeds.