Why is chicken so popular and is it actually healthy and better for the environment?

At Cookery School we only source organic meat in our effort to support, cook with and teach people about ingredients that are healthy for us and for the planet, but are consumers thinking along the same lines?

‘A third of Britons have stopped or reduced eating meat’, ‘One in four Britons want to cut back on red meat this year’, ‘White meat overtakes red meat in popularity for the first time in Britain‘ – these are the kinds of headlines we’ve all been reading over the last few years. Following two recent publications, Eating Better’s report, We need to talk about chicken and the Greenpeace article, Is eating chicken really better for the environment than eating beef?, we decided to delve deeper into sustainable chicken consumption.

In 2017 it was reported that in the UK our white meat consumption overtook red meat and Eating Better confirms that chicken is our nation’s meat of choice. Greenpeace recently reported that there are 30 chickens for every 10 people on the planet, in fact they say there are so many chickens that nature has shifted. Farmed chickens and poultry make up 70% of all birds on the planet, leaving less room for wild species to breed and flourish.

Last year YouGov found that 24% of Britons wanted to cut back further on red meat, although Brits were twice as likely to cite health over environmental reasons for this potential dietary change.

With sustainability firmly on the agenda we were surprised by the fact that 95% of chicken farming in the UK is in intensive indoor units. What’s more, chicken farming contributes to deforestation due to so much of the soy feed fed to chickens, coming from unsustainable sources (over half of the soy used to feed poultry in the UK is found to be not certified deforestation free). In fact with the UK’s soy coming from South America it is almost all GM soy, hence it is used for animal feed and not human food. Lastly, is chicken actually a healthy alternative for consumers, given that iron and omega-3 levels have dropped in the last 50 years of chicken farming, while fat levels have increased. What’s more the animals suffer from fast growth, lameness, no roaming and too many antibiotics during their shortened lives.

What’s clear is that the path to eating sustainably reared chicken is muddy one at best, especially when it is one item out of many on your shopping list.

We decided to ask Lord Newborough of Rhug Estate Farm, our organic meat supplier, his thoughts, as a farmer and business owner with sustainability at the core.

As an organic farm you are a small minority – how do you find this and do you see it changing?

It is a sad situation, but particularly in the UK the drive for cheap food seems to prevail over a healthy diet, I am pleased to say that in many countries abroad it is the reverse. It is my hope that with people eating less meat they will eat better meat free from toxins and the demand for organic chickens and meat will increase. Statically, the organic sector is growing faster than any other sector of the meat business but it is led by overseas demand. Animal welfare is becoming more of an issue with the customer and hopefully this might force change.

Have you seen an increase in poultry sales and are your customers switching meat products because of a demand for more sustainable choices/diets?

We have seen a dramatic increase in demand for chickens but we think this is mainly people switching from red meat to white meat. However, the demand for our organic chickens has increased significantly.

What do you feed your chickens and how do you ensure the feed is sustainable?

The protein for our chickens comes from home grown beans and peas, a third of their diet is home grown organic oats and the rest is organic home grown compound feed. Organic chickens eat feed grown without the use of artificial fertiliser, the grass they run out onto every day grows without the use of artificial fertiliser which means that it fixes harmful carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the ground helping the environment. Carbon sequestration is really important and if one wants to combat global warming, organic farming is generally carbon neutral or beneficial.

Iron and omega-3 levels have dropped which indicates that chicken meat is not as healthy as it was 50 years ago – why is this and can you claim your chickens are nutritious?

I can’t answer this with any evidence but organic meat including chickens have been proven by extensive research to be 50% higher in omega 3 than non-organic meat. The chickens are significantly higher in dry matter because they are eating feed that hasn’t been grown with artificial fertiliser, this will be noticed when you cook them because they cook quicker and you don’t get lots of water coming out during the cooking process. You will also note that an organic chicken has texture, flavour, a browner leg meat and a thicker skin.

The food chain is complex but we are happy with our choice that organic is best for us and for nature and we stick to this along with our other principles, which you can read about here.

Post lockdown we will be running  classes on Roasts and alongside these we have many plant-centric classes, including our vegetarian, vegan and healthy eating/gut health classes.


Supplier Spotlight Sustainability