If you eat chicken, there's a good chance the chicken meat you buy comes from a factory farm in Georgia. Americans' consumption of chicken meat has risen drastically in recent years, and Georgia is at the forefront of production. In fact, Georgia is the leading broiler (chickens specifically raised for meat) producer in the nation.
You may be thinking, "Hey, that's great. I love chicken so keep on producin' it, Georgia!" or "Way to go Georgia ... production is great for the economy." But before you come up with accolades for the chicken production occurring in Georgia, I implore you to become a conscious consumer, and take a deeper look at this factorized type of meat production, and also at the blossoming alternatives that are becoming more prevalent.
The newly formed group Georgians for Pastured Poultry
(GPP) is trying to do just that: inform consumers, businesses and the government of the unseen costs and consequences associated with industrially produced chicken in Georgia. GPP also offers support to an alternative to factory-farmed chicken: pasture raised chicken.
So what's the big deal with consuming industrially produced chicken? Factory farmed meat of any kind comes with a heftier price tag than you see in the store; the hidden costs of this production method add up to be too expensive for any of us to afford. Factory farmed meat not only harms our own health, but also the health of the animals, workers and environment, and we must pay for the consequences in these areas at some point down the line in one way or another.
Factory farmed chicken from Georgia is no exception. Let's break it down.
Broiler chickens raised in CAFEs (Centralized Animal Feeding Operations) are kept in large, enclosed chicken houses, in incredibly close confinement, without access to the outside. These birds are packed in. One house the size of a football field can contain more than 30,000 chickens, giving them no space to move; forget about space to live their short lives doing things chicken should be doing, like scratching and pecking outdoors in a field.
Leg and skin disorders are common among industrially raised broiler chickens.
The modern day broiler has been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate (birds reach slaughter weight in 6-7 weeks). The chickens' muscles and organs can't keep up with the growth rate, and as a result the birds suffer serious health consequences, such as heart and leg disorders, resulting in extreme pain or premature death.
As a result of their horrific living conditions, chickens are given antibiotics to keep them as "healthy" as possible. The antibiotics remain in the chickens' bodies, and are transferred to humans who consume the chickens once they've been slaughtered. Americans are experiencing an increase in antibiotic-resistant infections because those of us who eat factory farmed meat are consuming antibiotics, causing our bodies to become resistant to those same antibiotics that we often need when we are sick.
Factory farmed chickens are also slaughtered in an industrial manner. The birds are slaughtered at an incredibly rapid pace, and in extremely large quantities, making it impossible to inspect each processed bird for food safety purposes. The presence of food borne illnesses has greatly increased in the last decade (think: salmonella and E. coli outbreaks).
Workers involved in the factory farming of chicken are also at risk of health complications. People who handle live chickens in the chicken houses are exposed to respiratory toxins and often develop lung-related illnesses and other respiratory problems.
Line workers, who process and slaughter the chickens, have to keep pace with the fast-moving conveyor belts, and must repeat the same motions 20,000-30,000 times a day. Such fast mechanized production sustained throughout the day often results in serious musculoskeletal disorders for workers, and also causes workers to accidentally injure each other with their butcher blades.
Industrial poultry operations produce enormous amounts of waste. Production sites must find a way to dispose of chicken litter (feces, feathers and sometimes blood and other chicken related by-product). A common method for waste removal is to dump the chicken litter onto farm crops to use as fertilizer. While this is not a horrible idea in theory, what often ends up happening is that an excess of waste accumulates and begins to run off into nearby waterways: rivers, lakes and aquifers. The toxins found in this chicken waste are detrimental to surrounding ecosystems, impairing the biodiversity of animals and plants who make their home in these bodies of water. (Keep in mind the contamination of these waterways also means these toxins find their way into our drinking water.)
Another method of waste removal is to retain it in man-made lagoons. Manure lagoons not only produce a wretched smell, reducing the air quality for those in the vicinity, but they also are often not managed correctly and can easily flood, allowing the raw waste to flow directly into our waterways.
Industrial chicken farms also emit tons of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane — three main greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.
What is an alternative?
It is obvious just from this brief look into the hidden costs of factory farmed chicken that industrially produced meat is not the way we should be farming livestock. Consumers deserve a more fair, humane, healthy and sustainable choice.
Pasture-raised chicken is just that.
Pasture-raised chickens are raised in their natural habitat — outside in a pasture. The birds are free to roam, stretch their wings, scratch and peck. They are not bred to grow at an unnatural rate, and they do not suffer from the health defects caused by their growth rate, close confinement, poor living conditions or maltreatment.
Georgians for Pastured Poultry is working to increase the number of consumers eating pasture raised chicken, the presence of pasture-raised chicken in markets and the number of farmers raising pastured chicken.
Instead of writing Georgia off as the number one producer of bad chicken meat, let's help Georgia become the leading state in the production and consumption of pasture raised poultry; thus making Georgia a producer of meat that considers and betters the welfare of consumers, animals, workers and the environment.
Do your part by taking the Georgians for Pastured Poultry pledge here
Photos: Compassion in World Farming