A comparison of the effects of plant-based and animal-based chicken on humans and the environment.
Some people are upset when yet another chicken is reduced to a chicken breast and ends up on the shelves. Many of us know the situation, in which in conversation about the animal life or the environmental impact of the production are waved off irritated. We have gotten used to it and avoid this moral discussion. Of course it’s sad - but honestly, we spend our days worrying about completely different things. Maybe, at the right moment, we look into the eyes of our children and imagine their future. Possibly our thoughts then circle around the recent severe storm here in Switzerland that has destroyed our harvests. And we think about what the whole thing has to do with climate change. And then also why the whole “counting peas” about the CO₂ balance leads us back to cuddling with our chickens. We have done some research:
100’712’000 tons of chicken meat are slaughtered annually, which, with an average weight of a chicken of 3.5 kilograms, corresponds to 28’774’857’000 animals1 . So: for every human being there are 4 chickens in the world.
The amount of soy fed to these broiler chickens worldwide covers the area of Switzerland several times over. If this area were used to grow plants directly for human consumption, we would have 20 times as much protein available.
Interestingly, the animals live 5-8 years in nature. In production, the small roosters2 get 36 days. The hens stay about 20 months to lay eggs.
Have you ever heard that chicken breast has the perfect nutritional value to build muscles? Paradoxically, chickens also need to gain weight quickly. That is why they are fed with supplements. And not only with supplements. In factory farming3, diseases would spread rapidly if the animals were not also regularly given antibiotics. This contributes significantly to antibiotic resistance. There are 33,000 deaths in the EU each year because their bodies have been infected with antibiotic-resistant pathogens4. Nature is also unable to break down the antibiotics.
It is questionable if nature can remain in balance with our current meat consumption or if one is achievable. The fattening feed for chickens (the main part, up to 800 grams of soy meal per chicken) is grown today mainly in South America. There, in order to create space for cultivation, more and more forests are being cut down and savannahs destroyed5.
We also import three times the amount of chicken living in the EU, i.e. a slaughter weight of 412,000 tons, from South America. On average, 9.9 square meters of space are needed abroad for one chicken.
Well, from the resources we get back quite a bit of meat. The paradox is that only 70-72% of the chicken weight can be slaughtered6. Almost 80% of the chicken meat sold in German supermarkets is chicken breast, although the chicken breast makes up only 24% of the total weight of a chicken. The majority of chicken therefore leaves Europe again because there are no buyers here7.
The animal remains, which are considered slaughter waste in Europe, are shipped to Africa frozen. This does not bring any extra income, but saves disposal costs for local producers.
Does the extra meat help to reduce food shortages in Africa? Studies show the opposite: local poultry farming cannot keep up with the reduced prices from Europe. Certainly, some people can afford meat for the first time, even if it has to travel a long way and the quality can be questioned. Others lose their income because of it. Due to long transport distances and regular power outages, it is almost impossible to refrigerate the meat continuously. The poultry meat is therefore defrosted and refrozen several times or lies for hours in its own defrosting liquid. Consequently, the meat from Europe is full of pathogens8.
A common belief is that previously mentioned effects can be remedied by turning to organic chicken. The chickens are bred and kept in organic barns under different conditions, for the climate this is not a solution.
In the production of chicken meat, animal production9 accounts for the largest share of CO₂ emissions. The production of feed is responsible for more than 60%. 100 grams of animal chicken breast cause 701 grams of CO₂ equivalents10 from the production of the required feed to the sales shelf in Switzerland. 100 grams of plant-based chicken cause just a quarter of this. The vegetable chicken also consumes almost 50% less fresh water (23.5 liters per 100 grams of chicken breast).
So when we stop chicken consumption, we contribute to the reduction of CO₂ emissions. We contribute to food security. We allow values like compassion, integrity, and warm-heartedness into our diets. Values that are innate to human beings. We are giving space to these values again in the story of our food.
When this process begins, it will help us humans consciously decide whether we want to eat this egg or that chicken breast. Or do we want more and better?
Let’s investigate if plant-based chicken can convince you to be better:
|Animal Chicken (CH)||Planted.chicken (CH)|
|Good for the climate||✗ 701 CO₂eq./100g||✓ 182 CO₂eq./100g|
|Good water balance||✗ 23.5 L/100g||✓ 12.6 L/100g|
|Proteins||✓ 23.5 g / 100g (enough)11||✓ 23.7 g / 100g (enough)|
|Weird additives||✗ Hormones, antibiotics, etc.||✓ None.|
|Short transport routes||✗ & ✓ No complete transparency with regard to feed imports12||✓ Guaranteed ingredients from the EU|
|Full recycling possible||✗ Cannibalization is 70-72%||✓ What is produced is packed|
|No danger for the rainforest||✗ No transparency whether rainforest was cleared for chicken feed.13||✓ Certainly not a piece of forest touched.|
|No animal suffering||✗ High stocking density leads to toxic gases, behavioral disorders, repression of basic needs, overbreeding and other physical suffering and damage, slaughter14||✓|
|General life expectancy of animals||✗ poor males: Life expectancy of 36 days||✓|
|Dead male chicken||½ of the population missing||All still alive|
|Chicken Poop||✗ Stinks. (Causes toxic gases).||✓ Does not exist.|
|Pleasure||✗ & ✓ Sometimes you bite on cartilage, it cracks so funny. But you can pull the crispy skin off the meat so deliciously with your teeth. That, in turn, is fun again.||✓ Tastes + allows for compassion|
|Uniqueness||Will probably no longer exist from the year 2030 (Because we have reached our then climate goals : ).||Still difficult to get, Note: available at Coop, Migros and Planted Shop with discount code EATERNITY20 (21.-28.09.)|
The tender animal chicken meat can be a great temptation despite all this. Did you know that with the current state of technology, a vegetable chicken can be made from peas? This is amazingly similar in texture and taste. Protein, healthy fats, no additives, no antibiotics. In fact, it has exactly everything we need.
Statista, 2020, Consumption of chicken meat worldwide from 2010 to 2021, Retrieved 28/07/2021 from https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/317934/umfrage/konsum-von-huehnchenfleisch-weltweit/ ↩
Wolff et al. 2016. final report project “EnviMeat. Life cycle assessment of different meat products, poultry, pork and beef. Agroscope. ↩
Factory farming and overbreeding of chickens make animals more susceptible to disease. ↩
Robert Koch Institute, 2018, New figures on disease burden and deaths from antibiotic-resistant pathogens in Europe, Available at https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/Antibiotikaresistenz/Uebersichtsbeitraege/AMR_Europa.html ↩
WWF, 2014, Meat eats land, Available at https://www.wwf.de/fileadmin/user_upload/WWF_Fleischkonsum_web.pdf ↩
Slaughter is the ratio of slaughter weight to live weight of the animal before slaughter. It varies by chicken breed, more here: Ingrid Simon and Josef Stegemann, 2007, Landwirtschaftszentrum Haus Düsse der Landwirtschaftskammer Nordrhein-Westfalen, “Hähnchenherkünfte im Vergleich 2007” Retrieved 08/16/2021 from https://www.landwirtschaftskammer.de/duesse/tierhaltung/gefluegel/versuche/masthaehnchen/2007_haehnchenherkuenfte.pdf ↩
O.V. in Infosperber, 2014, Our chicken makes Africans poor and sick, Retrieved 28.07.2021 from https://www.infosperber.ch/politik/welt/unsere-poulets-machen-afrikaner-arm-und-krank/ ↩
Alexander Göbel in Deutschlandfunk, 2018, Ghana and the global chicken, Retrieved 28/07/2021 from https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/folgen-des-welthandels-ghana-und-das-globale-huhn.724.de.html?dram:article_id=433492 ↩
Livestock production (called livestock farming or animal husbandry) involves the keeping of farm animals for the production of food and raw materials. ↩
Itten, R., Scharfy, D., Stucki M. 2016. Environmental impact of chicken and pork. Economic allocation of different meat cuts. ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Science, Wädenswil, unpublished document. Allocation to different chicken meat cuts (breast, wings, thighs) based on data from Wolff et al. 2016, cited on page 1. ↩
Katrin Koelle in Eat Smarter, 2020, Chicken, Retrieved 28/07/2021 from https://eatsmarter.de/lexikon/warenkunde/fleisch/haehnchen ↩
According to Optigal, there are cases of consumers*eating chicken fed only certified feed from Europe. It is also possible that uncertified feed from Brazil was used. For more, see: https://optigal.ch/uploads/download/Optigal_Der_Weg_zum_guten_Poulet_01.pdf and Wolff et al, 2016, Life Cycle Assessment of Different Meat Products, Retrieved 23 Aug 2021 from https://ira.agroscope.ch/de-CH/publication/36267 ↩
Every day in Brazil, the area of 4340 football fields is destroyed. Much of this can be attributed to soy production for animal feed. Again, some is fed to chicken. Here are two sources on this: O.V. in SRF, 2020, Every day 4340 football fields of rainforest are cut down, Retrieved on 07/28/2021 from https://www.srf.ch/news/international/entwaldung-des-amazonas-pro-tag-werden-4340-fussballfelder-regenwald-abgeholzt and O.V., 2021, Soy for animal feed Negative impacts here and there, Oroverde the Tropical Forest Foundation, Retrieved 28.07.2021 athttps://www.regenwald-schuetzen.org/verbrauchertipps/soja-und-fleischkonsum/soja-fuer-tierfutter ↩
Due to the continuously increasing demand for chicken meat, there are more and more large industrial fattening farms in Switzerland. The very high demand has consequences on the keeping conditions of the animals concerned. A reduction in the consumption of animal products is a basic prerequisite for improving the keeping conditions of the animals in the medium to long term and reducing suffering. Here are two interesting sources on factory farming: https://media.4-paws.org/8/c/d/d/8cddc6c9bded6c0b1f997d57460b23bd7f92ce60/VP-Bericht-Tierfreundliche-Gemeinschaftsverpflegung-Web-04-Dez.pdf and ↩