10 things to know before you eat your next chicken

It’s pretty rare to see the inside of a factory farm: Corporate farming interests have tried to make undercover filming illegal in 26 states, and they’ve succeeded in seven of them.

That’s why when a farmer from North Carolina invited Fusion to look inside his chicken houses, we jumped at the opportunity. Craig Watts, 48, raises 720,000 chickens a year for Perdue Farms, the third largest poultry company in the country. Here’s what we learned. (Read more from Fusion’s six-month investigation here.)

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1. Americans eat 9 billion chickens a year.

It’s by far the most popular meat in the U.S. The California Poultry Federation estimates that Californians alone consume 30 chickens each per year. Globally, that’s 50 billion chickens.

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2. Every day, 23 million chickens are killed in the U.S. for food: That’s 269 per second!

The machines that kill the chicken you eat slaughter about 120 every minute. It looks like this. Warning it’s pretty gruesome.

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Courtesy: Mercy For Animals

3. We might eat more chicken, but the number of farms has dropped 98%

In 1950, our chickens came from more than 1.5 million farms. By 2007, they came from fewer than 28,000 farms, even as Americans eat more chicken than ever before.

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4. No chicken you eat was ever raised in a cage.

What?! But you’ve seen “cage-free” plenty of times! Google it. The only chickens raised in cages in the U.S. are the ones that lay eggs. When you see the words “cage-free” on a label it doesn’t actually mean anything. Companies put it there, but really, none of the chickens were ever in a cage.

The National Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super told Fusion that he doesn’t think the label is misleading but helpful. “I know that all chickens raised for meat, broilers, are not raised in cages, and part of my job is to educate consumers, so they can better understand that as well,” he said

Chicken farms must convert to cage free in California Courtesy: Getty Images

5. But most of them are raised in barns with 30,000 of their feathered friends.

Craig’s barn is a sea of 30,000 birds filled with litter, feces and dusty feathers. When the chicks are fully grown, they have a space equivalent to a sheet of paper to walk around. The burning smell of ammonia is very common.

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Photos by Alice Brennan

6. Massive Breasts!

Modern chickens are selectively bred to grow faster and fatter than ever before. In 1925, it took 112 days to grow a 2.5 pound chicken. Today – it only takes 47 days to raise a 6.1 pound chicken. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Department of Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas, If a human were to grow at the same pace, at two months it would weigh 660 pounds.

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7. The chicken industry expects to lose about 264 Million of the chickens they raise.

It’s the farmer’s responsibility to cull bad chickens. Every day farmers scour their chickens houses searching for dead and sick birds (small or deformed chickens that are unable to reach food and water). The ones that are sick need to be killed. Craig Watts recalls culling 400 birds in one day. According to industry standards, cracking their necks is the most humane way to do it.

 

8. Farmers are crushed by debt.

The average chicken farmer will often borrow $700,000 or more to build chicken houses and they’ll subsequently invest more to keep up with new technology. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, farmers’ total debt amounted to $5.2 billion, or 22 percent of their total assets, in 2011.

Since 2000 the average annual market price of chicken, that’s the price the companies sell the meat for, has risen 70%. The price Craig gets paid has only gone up 11%.

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9. The farmers don’t own the chickens.

In fact they don’t own much at all.

10. It's not just the chicken industry that's controlled by a fortunate few! The entire meat industry is mostly run by four companies.

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