Friday, March 30, 2007

9 Billion Chickens Born a Year in US

I am reading The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter which alerted me to this article Human Diets and Animal Welfare which looks at how many animals are being born each year in the US. I found this chart particularly interesting.

Born per year (millions) Percent of all born Lifespan (years) Life-years per year (millions)Kg protein per life-yearLand use (m2) per kg protein
Broiler chickens 8,680 92.27 0.12 1042 1.8514
Broiler breeders 46 0.49 1.3 61
Layer chickens 259 2.76 1.3 337 1.5922
Turkeys 274 2.91 0.3 84
Hogs 101 1.07 0.6 59 16.490
Breeder sows 1 0.01 5.0 6
Beef cows 36 0.38 2.5 89 17.8 245
Dairy cows 9 0.10 5.0 45 234 24
Veal calves 1 0.01 0.27 0.3 -
Total 9,407 100.00

These numbers just blew me away. Almost 9 billion chickens a year born in the US! To put that in perspective, there have only been 100 billion people that have lived throughout history, so in 11 years there are more chickens born in the US than there have been people that have ever lived on the planet.

9 billion chickens works out to 30 chickens per American per year. I thought there was no way that could be right, but then I checked out this USDA report that states there were 35 billion pounds of chicken produced and consumption of 85.8 lbs per capita in 2006. That works out to .25 lbs of chicken a day every day for every American which makes 30 chickens a year seem plausible.

The 9 billion chickens born a year makes the 46 million cows born a year pale by comparison. And yet even that is over 10 times the 4.1 million humans born in the US each year.

The article also raises the interesting ethical and environmental question of whether you should be trying to minimize the number of sentient beings you are killing vs. minimizing the amount of land that you are using.

I have always thought the goal should be to minimize the amount of land. The preferable choices would then be chicken, eggs and milk (smallest number in the Land use (m2) per kg protein column). But, if you want to minimize the number of killings then you should go for milk and beef (largest number in the Kg protein per life-year column). I have meet some Buddhists who favored this approach. Ironically I met these Buddhists in India where it is illegal to eat beef.

The article also makes the surprising case that raising chickens actually increases the number of living sentient beings. If you left one acre of land to nature there would be fewer sentient beings then if you used the same amount of land to raise chickens. If your goal is to maximize the number of living sentient beings (a similar idea to My Pro-Life Agenda), and if the life the animals lived was worth living (not at all clear in the current factory system) then raising chickens is actually preferable to leaving the land to nature. But, if this was really your goal, you are better off still if you become a vegetarian and then use the extra grain to feed smaller sentient beings like mice. I have a hard time seeing how creating a world maximizing the number of living mice is an optimal one, but maybe that is just me.