The population of the world is ever-growing, at a faster pace compared to centuries before. It has hit 8 billion, a number that most of us probably have a hard time visualizing or putting in perspective. If we look at the increase in population in just a day, or the day we are in right now, we can see that the number of births has surpassed a hundred thousand easily and is nearing three hundred thousand (The World Counts). This number will probably go beyond even that until the end of the day. After considering these data, one question pops into mind: how do we provide food for eight billion people?
As much as we explore space, maybe even try to find life outside this world, currently, all we have is the Earth. And all of us would like to think that the Earth has a wide range of resources we can use; however, as pollution increases, climate change moves most systems off their hinges, and humans continue to collectively exploit, waste utilities, and distribute resources unevenly; it seems that we are wasting the opportunities provided to us by the planet we reside in. At the rate we continue to live, we would require 1.8 planet Earths (“How Many Earths? How Many Countries?”).
Unfortunately, to make up for those needs, or to make them more accessible, the food industry has been adapting drastically. The most known examples of these are Genetically Modified Food, the mistreatment of cattle for their milk and meat, or the disquieting ways in which chicken meat is being produced.
As of the last few decades, the increase in demand for poultry has increased. This was a result of the fact that there is nearly no restriction regarding religious aspects, as well as its nutritious value and inexpensiveness. Thus, chicken and poultry meat gained attention and the producers had to find ways to supply meat in both quantity and quality as the market of poultry has expanded in an economic sense. Especially considering that breast meat of poultry is most wanted among the other parts, several alterations have changed the model size of the animal.
In order to provide chicken with more breast meat — which is what consumers usually prefer — breeders had to find various solutions to increase the amount of that specific part of the meat. This starts with artificial genetic selection. The chickens with more muscles are the ones selected to continue the next generations. Although the health of the animals and other aspects regarding the welfare of the animals are still considered (“Study of the Impact of Genetic Selection on the Welfare of Chickens Bred and Kept For Meat Production”), this also creates a ground for a whole new set of problems.
Compared to a few decades ago, the chickens that are raised to be consumed currently are nearly twice as bigger. However, this advantage did not come without shortcomings. As chickens get bigger and are raised faster, they are more susceptible to muscle diseases or conditions that decrease the quality of the product. Such as PSE (pale, soft, exudative meat), which describes the condition of meat that is dry and abnormal colored (“PSE Meat.”), white striping that occurs when the blood supply cannot catch up to muscle fiber and creates white stripes(Compassion in World Farming), and wooden breast that makes the meat hard and chewy (“Solving the Mystery of Wooden Breast Syndrome.”)(Muscle growth and poultry meat quality issues). Apart from impacting the health of the animals, these issues also discourage consumers.
Overall, poultry meat, especially chicken, is a great solution for demand. However, the decreasing quality of the meat and health issues the animals face as they are bred to have more muscles and the breast meat is concerning for the future of the industry.
“How Many Earths? How Many Countries?” Earth Overshoot Day, 9 Aug. 2022, https://www.overshootday.org/how-many-earths-or-countries-do-we-need/#:~:text=Humanity is using nature 1.8,the resources of 1.8 Earths.
“Study of the Impact of Genetic Selection on the Welfare of Chickens Bred and Kept For Meat Production”. https://food.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2016-10/aw_practice_farm_broilers_653020_final-report_en.pdf.
“PSE Meat.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Sept. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSE_meat#:~:text=Pale%2C soft%2C exudative meat%2C,dry and unattractive to consumers.
“White Striping in Chicken Meat.” Compassion in World Farming, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/education/white-striping-in-chicken-meat/#:~:text=White striping occurs when a,a single chicken breast fillet.
“Solving the Mystery of Wooden Breast Syndrome.” IFT.org, https://www.ift.org/iftnext/2020/june/solving-the-mystery-of-wooden-breast-syndrome#:~:text=June 4%2C 2020-,Wooden breast syndrome is a muscle-quality disorder that affects,rising demand for broiler meat.
Petracci M, Cavani C. Muscle growth and poultry meat quality issues. Nutrients. 2012 Jan;4(1):1-12. doi: 10.3390/nu4010001. Epub 2011 Dec 22. PMID: 22347614; PMCID: PMC3277097.
Image: Matthew T Rader, https://matthewtrader.com, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons