Chickens, Globalisation and the Forest King
19th August, 2008
Globally over 60 billion animals are farmed for food every year. The 2006 Report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, predicted that global meat consumption will more than double by 2050 (from 2001).
Where will all this meat come from? The short answer is: from chickens. Already, around 50 billion of that 60 billion figure IS poultry. Some represents turkeys, and ducks still provide a popular meat in eastern Asia, but the vast majority are chickens. Chicken meat is the fastest growth area within the global meat industry.
You would imagine that with chicken being so ubiquitous, it would represent a huge variety of breeds, each local in origin, adapted to local conditions and climate. You would be wrong. Over 90% come from breeds owned by just three multi-national breeding companies. Walk into a chicken shed in Britain, in North or South America, in Australia or India or China and you will find the same birds living in virtually identical conditions.
So why should that be a problem? Isn’t globalised chicken production a shining example of a level playing field? Isn’t it great that consumers in Beijing, Boston, Bangkok and Birmingham get equal access to the same product?
Let’s look at how the system works. The poultry industry is the most vertically integrated meat business. Companies often control not just which chickens will be grown, but how they will be grown, what they will be...
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