Chicken is now the most popular source of meat in the US. At 84 pounds of chicken each year, the average American eats twice as much as they did in the 70s. That's a lot of chicken and all that chicken has to come from somewhere, so it's hardly surprising that the amount of chickens reared for food has soared from 580 million in the 50s to nearly 9 billion today.
In the past, there was around 1,000,000 chicken farms spread across the United States, but these have now largely consolidated into huge industrial operations in just 15 states, mostly in the Southeast, an area known as the "broiler belt". As a result, the number of producers has fallen by an incredible 98%.
Now a report from Pew Environment Group, Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in North America, claims that the vast scale of these operations poses a real threat to the environment. The majority of the broiler producers are centred on the Chesapeake Bay area, producing huge amounts of untreated chicken waste, composed of droppings and bedding. In the past, this manure was used on farmland, but in the sheer volume of birds and lack of farmland in the area means that much of this untreated waste is now finding its way into Chesapeake Bay via local streams and waterways. The result is high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, affecting ecosystems within the bay and the surrounding land.
The group's report makes several recommendations to improve the situation. These include putting a cap on the number of birds kept in the facilities, monitoring and regulating how the waste is processed and legislation that requires the producers to obtain Clean Water Act permits.
A spokesperson for industrial animal agriculture production reform at the Pew Environment Group, Robin Martin, said: "The environmental consequences of the broiler business" explosive growth are especially profound in the Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation's most important, scenic and threatened bodies of water. Instead of working to limit the effects of all of this animal waste, the industry has fought to avoid responsibility for cleaning up one of our national treasures."
Video Credits: Pew Environment Group
Top Image Credit: © Murat Baysan