Editorial: Chicken for Dinner?

7/26/2014 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

Have a craving for beef? Not only is it expensive, it might not be good for the environment.

According to a report released Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the environmental impact of raising beef far outweighs its appeal to the senses.

The report states that raising cattle requires 28 times as much land and 11 times as much irrigation water as dairy products, poultry, pork or egg production.

Beef production also pumps at least five times more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“For people, the obvious answer is: whenever possible, replace beef with something else,” said Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College and lead author of the study.

“You can still have bacon and eggs, and whatever you want,” he said. “As long as it’s not beef, you have always made a significant step forward.”

Of course the beef industry doesn’t agree.

“The PNAS study represents a gross oversimplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain, a point which the authors acknowledge,” Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, director of sustainability research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement.

“The fact is the U.S. beef industry produces beef with lower greenhouse gas emissions than any other country,” she said.

Another report published Monday by the journal Climate Change says that from 1961 to 2010, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions from livestock increased 51 percent, largely due to beef production.

It remains to be seen what influence these two reports will have on the future of beef, but chicken appears to be poised to take its place on people’s plates.

According to the National Chicken Council, chicken consumption has risen 17 percent since 2012, with a third of the people surveyed citing “health/nutrition” as the primary reason for eating more chicken.

This might explain, at least in part, two huge chicken house projects proposed for the Delmarva peninsula.

One project calls for 10 new chicken houses, while the other calls for up to 20. Both proposals are near Farmington in Kent County, Del.

These projects are “larger than the norm” of three to five chicken houses on a typical farm, Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., told The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., this week.

A chicken house can house between 35,000 and 50,000 birds. If these two projects get built, it could result in more than 1 million additional broilers on the Delmarva peninsula.

Of course, if the bad news and high prices continue for beef, 20-house broiler farms might just become the norm.

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