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About the Foundation

Chicken

Although known for thousands of years, for a long time, chicken was considered a luxury food item. It became more widely available thanks to industrial farming methods that took off following the Second World War. Demand has since grown worldwide and the low price and high nutritional value of chicken, together with the absence of religious prohibitions, contribute to its popularity. Recently, however, battery farming has roused more and more controversy.
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© Shutterstock / Spflaum - Battery farming

The globalised consumption of chicken

Chickens have been known and domesticated for thousands of years. They are young male or female birds from the sub-species Gallus gallus domesticus and are bred for their meat. In the past, chickens were left to roam free in the backyard, scratching at the ground and feeding off food scraps or grain. However, chicken production remained negligible for a long time. Until the mid-20th century, good, fresh, healthy poultry was expensive and chicken was long considered a luxury product, only eaten on Sundays or on festive occasions. It became popular with the start of industrial poultry farming, which took off after the Second World War. This made chicken more accessible and turned it into a regular consumer product.

Global poultry consumption has risen steadily for many years now. Consumption is growing the fastest in emerging economies. It is especially high in China and Brazil, thanks to the economic growth these countries have experienced in recent years. Chicken is cheaper than other types of meat and is not linked with any religious or cultural taboos. Therefore, the highest consumers of poultry per capita are those countries where pork is not consumed, such as Malaysia, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The ‘health’ argument also comes into play. Chicken meat has a lower fat content than other meat and it contains a higher level of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial to our health. Chicken is low in calories and rich in protein.

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© Shutterstock / Robert Crow - In a field in Texas

Rapidly evolving poultry farming

Standard industrially produced chickens are battery farmed, in other words kept in cages, in huge enclosed buildings which are artificially lit and overcrowded: There are approximately 22 animals per square metre. These chickens are generally slaughtered between 35 and 40 days after they hatch. Animal rights advocates and the general public are now paying greater attention to these conditions. The quality of the meat also suffers through this type of production. Switzerland and Germany were the first to ban this method, followed by the entire European Union in 2012, and practise barn rearing, where chickens are still enclosed, but are able to move around.

To tackle this degradation, many farmers are adopting other techniques and following stricter specifications. The free-range farming system allows chickens to go outside during the day. There are also a few fully free-range farming systems run mainly by organic producers where the animals are not slaughtered until they are at least 81 days old. Several designations and labels certify the quality of these products.

The main chicken-producing and exporting countries are currently Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United States and parts of the European Union. The various parts of chicken are distributed according to the specific eating habits of different countries: Chicken breasts remain in the European Union, thighs are sent to Russia and feet and combs to China.

Chicken and its variations

According to Brillat-Savarin, a 19th century French gourmet, “a chicken is to a cook what a canvas is to a painter”. Boiled, roasted, fried, whole, thinly sliced, cut into pieces, hot or cold, it can be prepared in a number of ways and with a wide variety of seasonings. From Canadian chicken with maple syrup to Taiwanese five-spice fried chicken, chicken is constantly adapting and reinventing itself.