Chicken is lean for your body and has a smaller environmental impact than large farm animals. For those who don’t wish to give up meat, “Even limiting one's meat consumption to chicken yields major environmental benefits--not to mention health and financial benefits” (Adler). The Environmental Working Group estimates 6.87 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of consumed chicken (Hamerschlag and Venkat), about half that of pork and a quarter that of beef. As far as using fewer resources, “producing a calorie of chicken protein required about 5.6 calories of fossil fuels, compared with reported figures of . . . 20 to 40 for beef” (Rastogi).
Chicken production does have a number of harmful effects. If not properly handled, manure seeping into the land can spread bacteria. It also washes into rivers, streams, and coastal areas, where nitrogen and phosphorous harm water quality, spur algal grow and create “dead zones.” For factory-farmed chickens, the environmental impact also includes the effects of antibiotics and hormones. Chicken processing is also “more energy- and water-intensive than other meat processing” (Hamerschlag).
Although factory farming has come under intense criticism, one study found worse environmental impacts for organic and free-range chicken (Allison). Energy use from the production of organic chickens is 33% greater than for conventional chickens, and 25% greater from free range chickens, according to the study. Global warming potential was found to be 46% higher from organic and 20% higher from free range chickens. This is largely due to the greater time it takes for “natural” chickens to grow. Of course, there are also environmental benefits from organic and free range chickens. Pesticide use, for instance, was reduced 92% by organic chicken production (Allison).
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