Chicken isn’t just a lean, mean, protein-packed menu option. It’s also green. So green that according to a previous American broiler life cycle assessment, producing the same amount of chicken in 2010 as in 1965 had 50 percent less environmental impact.

Riding on the heels of this significant progress, the National Chicken Council (NCC) is showcasing monumental milestones in our first-ever sustainability report released today. Based on key sustainability intensity metrics (environmental footprint per kilogram of bird) between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. broiler industry now produces 21 percent more chicken by weight than ten years ago. The big takeaway is that our industry is producing more chicken with less environmental impacts and fewer resources, according to a new Lifecycle Assessment released in tandem with the report.

Since September is National Chicken Month, now is a particularly opportune time to highlight industry sustainability efforts. The 2020 U.S. Broiler Chicken Industry Sustainability Report was submitted to the Scientific Group of the U.N. Food Systems Summit 2021, ahead of the U.N. Food Systems Summit on September 23. Guided and inspired by the call to action in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report is also intended to complement the important work being done by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry & Eggs, which is developing a framework for collecting data to further innovation, drive improvements and support communication about the measured and verified sustainability of U.S. chicken.

Six essential industry topics are addressed in the new report, including: air, land and water; broiler health and welfare; employee safety and wellbeing; food and consumer safety; community support; and food security. The Broiler Life Cycle Assessment: 2020 Update reveals that even as U.S. chicken production increased 21 percent from 2010-2020, we’ve achieved remarkable environmental improvements during those ten years, including:

  • Land use: down 13 percent
  • Greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint): down 18 percent
  • Water consumption: down 13 percent
  • Fossil resources use: down 22 percent
  • Particulate forming emissions: down 22 percent

These strides are in light of the fact that chicken is already the most efficient converter of feed into meat of all land-based livestock. Traditional breeding, nutritious feed tailored to each stage of a chicken’s life, up-to-date biosecurity practices, and better living conditions through climate-controlled barns and new technology enable our industry to produce more meat with a smaller footprint.      

But what does the future hold for chicken, with rising “buzz” about plant-based proteins and other alternatives?

Compared to many plant-based options, chicken protein is better quality and contains all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, needed to build muscle and strengthen bones. Plant-derived foods are often more processed, higher in sodium and have a weaker amino acid profile, making them less beneficial to the human body. Chicken provides more high-quality protein per 100 grams than most plant-based protein.

Looking ahead, we anticipate consumer demand for American chicken to keep gaining momentum, too. In June, NCC and WATT Global Media presented post-pandemic home food preparation and foodservice study results, focused on anticipated U.S. consumer behavior. 91 percent surveyed plan to continue eating fresh chicken at home; 30 percent said they will eat more chicken than pre-pandemic.

Given the global demand of U.S. chicken, our members are deeply committed to making even greater sustainability strides. We are working diligently with the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry & Eggs on the first-ever sustainability reporting framework for the full U.S. poultry supply chain, anticipated to launch in early 2022. Opportunities revealed by this upcoming assessment and the Broiler Life Cycle Assessment: 2020 Update, outline our industry’s groundwork for advancing green initiatives. With each year, U.S. chicken production will continue to innovate as responsible stewards, while stepping up to the challenge of sustainably production, as demand for chicken continues to sky-rocket, both here and abroad.

As producers of America’s No. 1 protein, we know the responsibility for sustainable chicken production lies with us - and this responsibility is always front and center - as outlined in this new report. As Congress and the administration mull proposals related to climate change and other sustainability related issues, I encourage them to use chicken’s sustainability journey as a model of success and continuous improvement.

Mike Brown is president of the National Chicken Council.

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