The Impact of Cheap Chicken

On our way to the US, we met with Philip Lymbery, Executive Director of Compassion in World Farming and author of the book Farmageddon when he was speaking at a […]

April 2, 2015 // undercontractfilm // No Comments // Posted in Uncategorized // ,

On our way to the US, we met with Philip Lymbery, Executive Director of Compassion in World Farming and author of the book Farmageddon when he was speaking at a conference in Milan.

We asked him about the transition of agriculture worldwide. He has traveled all over the world – to South America, North America, Europe, and extensively in China – while doing research for his book. He described a transition that isn’t necessarily surprising. Small farms disappearing, as industrial agricultural models move in.

But a significant point he made, is that this industrial model brings with it a lot of hidden expenses. ¬†One interesting point in Farmageddon is the hidden cost of “ghost acres.” A modern¬†chicken house contains up to 30,000 or 40,000 chickens (and an average farm might have 4 or more houses). That many chickens need a lot of chicken feed. And chicken feed, which is made up mostly of grains like soybeans and corn, is often imported.

The point is that when we buy cheap chicken in the grocery store, we don’t usually think about the amount of acreage it took to produce all the feed to fatten that chicken. Lymbery points out that when animals eat grains, they convert the energy into meat – but not at a “1:1” ratio. In other words it will take a lot more than 1 lb of grain to generate 1 lb of meat. A lot of land that could be used to produce food for local communities or for human consumption is instead used to produce feed grains for export at low prices, and often under mono-cropping and chemical-laden conditions.

The environmental and food security costs that are implied in this trade off, are what Lymbery calls the costs of the “ghost acres.”