Fried, baked, or as an omelette, there’s no denying that Americans love chicken—the industry is now worth more than $50 billion a year.
But the success of chicken as a mainstay on our dinner plates has come at a price. One of the most serious issues is avian flu, an infectious disease that can destroy entire populations of birds of all kinds, particularly poultry, and can also spread to humans. There have been outbreaks at factory farms around the world since 2003, and the situation is only getting worse. Can buying locally curb the problem?
The New York Times points out that the latest bout of deadly avian flu at Iowa’s Center Fresh Group, the country’s largest egg producer, has led to disposal and/or euthanization of 5.5 million laying hens—roughly 17 percent of America’s poultry.
To put this in even greater context, more than 33 million turkeys, chickens, and ducks in more than 12 states have fallen prey to avian flu since December 2014 alone, according to the Times. If this isn’t a serious wake up call, what is?
Statistics show that one in five eggs consumed by Americans is produced in Iowa, underlying the seriousness of the latest outbreak. And the factory farming machine makes diseases like avian flu and salmonella much easier to spread. According to the ASPCA, most egg-laying hens have less space to move than an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of office paper. That's pretty tight quarters—and an ideal place for disease to spread.
While it might seem like a bargain when your local grocery store has chicken breast on sale for $1.99 per pound, or you can grab a dozen eggs for $2.50, you’re actually supporting the industry's harmful practices. Wouldn’t it be better to spend a few extra dollars on a dozen eggs you know came from pasture-raised chickens that were able to move around and breathe fresh air? And it's not just the animals—farmers benefit when they can sell directly to consumers, too, since they don't have to answer to a corporate mandate and can pocket profits directly.
Being conscious doesn’t mean being perfect—it just means doing the best you can to choose wholesome food that's produced in healthy, humane ways. Just because industrial farming is the status quo doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr